Friday 12 September 2008

Doomsday (2008)

Friday 12 September 2008
Writer & Director: Neil Marshall

Cast: Rhona Mitra (Major Eden Sinclair), Bob Hoskins (Captain Bill Nelson), Malcolm McDowell (Marcus Kane), Alexander Siddig (Prime Minister John Hatcher), David O'Hara (Michael Canaris), Craig Conway (Sol), Adrian Lester (Sgt. Norton), Chris Robson (Miller), Leslie Simpson (Carpenter), Sean Pertwee (Dr. Talbot), Darren Morfitt (Dr. Stirling) & MyAnna Buring (Cally)

A miscellany of reheated memories from Neil Marshall's VHS childhood, Doomsday steals ideas from better, grittier films from the '70s and '80s. Imitation's the sincerest form of flattery…

In the near-future, a deadly "Reaper Virus" infects Scotland, forcing the government to rebuild Hadrian's Wall in a last-ditch effort to contain the plague. The infected are confined for three decades until the virus resurfaces in London, prompting Prime Minister Hatcher (Alexander Siddig) to send a special ops team across the Scottish border, because satellites have detected survivors who must be immune to the virus and could provide a cure.

Leading the team is a child survivor of the Scottish outbreak, the now adult Major Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra); a tougher-looking Kate Beckinsale. No surprise to learn Mitra's been tapped for the Beckinsale-less Underworld prequel. Sinclair and her troops, which include Marshall regular Sean Pertwee and Adrian Lester as dependable soldier Norton, enter Scotland in APCs (like the one from Aliens), and discover a two-class society of plague survivors: cannibal punks in Glasgow city, led by anarchic Sol (Chris Conway) and medieval regressers led by Sol's father Kane (Malcolm McDowell) holed up in a medieval castle.

It's a viral Escape From New York, seguing into Mad Max territory, with a heroine modelled on T2's Linda Hamilton with a twist of Carrie-Anne Moss from The Matrix. If you're a fan of these inspirations and '80s action attitudes in general, then Doomsday will provide brainless fun as it rattles along from one set-piece to the other, rarely pausing for breath as it replays John Carpenter and George Miller's greatest hits.

Indeed, Doomsday's so content to sit back and stir memories that its few unique elements fade into the background. Bob Hoskins is criminally wasted as Sinclair's political friend, David O'Hara's government creep has a mostly incomprehensible Scottish drawl, and Malcolm McDowell's late appearance as a self-appointed "King" is disappointing and not worth waiting for. He's there simply to instigate a gladiatorial fight and necessitate an unlikely car chase.

On the plus side, Craig Conway is sadistic fun as a dystopian Johnny Rotten-style gang leader, but after a great entrance he's forgotten about for a huge chunk of the film. By the time he returns for the climactic Road Warrior-style car chase, it's less thrilling than intended because the hero/villain dynamic wasn't developed.

One-time Lara Croft model Rhona Mitra certainly makes for a tough and sexy heroine, but her character's too dour and doesn't provide a strong centre to the chaos. You just can't connect with a woman doing an impenetrable Snake Plissken impression -- particularly when, unlike Kurt Russell's one-eyed anti-hero, her character's actions aren't being controlled by nasty superiors. She's a loyal, government-sanctioned ass-kicker -- so why the bad attitude, babe?

I thought Marshall's calling card Dog Soldiers was overrated, but follow-up The Descent was 2005's best horror (and still contains the decade's most effective jump-scare), so my expectations for Doomsday were high. Sadly, while it proves the filmmaker can paint on a larger canvass and maintain a gritty Britishness, this ode to his teenage video collection is mildly-diverting mimicry at best.

Sadly, it just fails to transcend its hotchpotch of influences (a trick Tarantino routinely performs with '70s trash cinema), and thus looks old-fashioned and extremely derivative. To end on a positive note; thanks to an admittedly cool premise, interesting mix of actors, well-choreographed fights, and an unflinching attitude to blood and gore… it makes for a fun, but forgettable night in with the lads.

Universal Pictures
Budget: £17 million
105 minutes