After his exemplary first couple of movies, my expectations for Neil Marshall’s third film, Doomsday, was higher than Snoop Dogg. I mean, could you blame me; the double whammy of the hugely enjoyable squadies versus werewolf movie Dog Soldiers and the underground chills of The Descent were as promising as an opening salvo of a horror career as there’s ever been and I was positively salivating to see what Mashall had in store for us next. That film was Doomsday, a movie that not only expanded the canvas Marshall was used to but substantially gave his usual budgets a boot up the arse as well – but sometimes bigger isn’t necessarily better and despite the director injecting his usual bursts of gore spraying violence and cynical, foul mouthed British heroes, his accent up the filmmaking ladder proved that wearing your influences on your sleeve may not be a good thing…
In 2008 a killer virus dubbed the Reaper strain that’s more contagious than yawning descends on Glasgow and reduces it’s population to pustule ridden sacks of meat and in the panic the rest of the country seals off the land of haggis, deep fried mars bars and the Loch Ness Monster from the rest of Great Britain with a 30-foot wall. Twenty seven years later and while everybody assumes the population of Scotland is dead, the rest of Britain has descended into a dystopian shit hole with people crammed into slums which is the perfect recipe for another outbreak to happen. However, the Prime Minister’s supremely sketchy aide has discovered that there is somehow still life in Scotland and that has surmised that there must be a cure and so a team is assembled to go north of the wall locate it. Lead by the no-nonsense Major Eden Sinclair, who comes complete with a nifty bionic eyeball, the team run foul of a massive army of deranged cannibals lead by the bugged-eyed, mohawk sporting Sol who kills a large number of the group and chooses to roast alive and eat a character played by Sean Pertwee because Hollywood rules state that’s exactly how you treat British character actors. Barely escaping with their body parts undigested, the survivors escape further up north to track down Dr. Kane, the man most likely to have found a cure but this portion of the population has returned back to the ways of medieval life complete with suits of armour, horses and broadswords the size of parking meters and Kane rules his new world just as brutally as Sol rules his.
Caught in the middle of this duo of blood thirsty new world orders (not to mention a highly corrupt British government), Major Sinclair has to negotiate, deceive and kill her way into completing her mission despite the fact that there’s no guarantee she’ll survive, even if she succeeds.
Simply put, Doomsday is exactly what would happen if someone remade Escape From New York with a fuck-load of Scots and Cockneys running around a walled-off Scotland but changed it up ever so slightly to avoid getting sued (which is something the Luc Besson scripted Lock-Out probably should have done) and herein lies the problem. Look, we all love John Carpenter and these days, thanks to entire generations growing up with his work, he’s probably now one of the most influential directors that’s ever lived, but there’s a fine line between homage and theft and not only does Marshall cross it way too many times for comfort, he focuses chiefly on a single film. It’s cynical heroine (played with convincing but empty grit by Rhonda Mitra) is optically challenged just like Snake Plisken, having lost an eye as a child, an EFNY style infographic explains a section of the country being separated and even the villainous Sol has plans awfully similar to the Duke Of New York, not to mention a similarly haggard looking punk army. I realise that Marshall’s only having some fun with his inflated budget, but the loose, derivative nature of Doomsday makes you yearn for the fierce intelligence of The Descent. Also, some of the hard-edged dialogue hurled with raspy London accents come across a little silly with even Alexander Siddig’s PM using terms like “give a flying fuck” like he’s had a few too many at his local pub while elsewhere Bob Hoskins – the man who made swearing in english a fucking art form in The Long Good Friday – actually struggles with his leaden, expletive filled, exposition. It also doesn’t help that all of his characters are pretty weak and rely heavily on pomp and circumstance to make an impact. Eden has the various tricks she can do with her eye and forgettable bad guy Sol gets treated to an immense speech where he comes out to his baying army to Good Thing by the Fine Young Cannibals (naturally) and then mosh dancing to a Ska version of the Can Can.
However, whenever Marshall actually gets round to showing us something new, the film genuinely feels frustratingly fresh (the medieval stuff is actually pretty strong) which annoys you even more that he’d use the project as such an obvious lover letter, but even though Doomsday isn’t as transgressive as The Descent, it does, thankfully, attempt to be as smash-mouthed as Dog Soldiers; meaning that it doesn’t waste a single chance to have some cool, gory shit to happen at a moments notice whether the story warrants it or not. A bunny rabbit caught in the sensor of a sentry gun explodes like a paper bag full of butcher’s off-cuts despite said gun not actually being relevant to the plot; a guy gets splattered by the chunky wheels of an APC and the aforementioned burning/eating of Pertwee’s mild mannered scientist may easily rank as the most gruesome on-screen demise that he’s experienced in a career full of untimely deaths.
Another thing that makes Doomsday’s lack of originality so disappointing is that Marshall obviously knows how to shoot the shit out of an action scene (hence his subsequent hiring on a couple of the more action/gore heavy episodes of Game Of Thrones) which is fully proven by an extended car chase that goes seemlessly from shamelessly ripping of John Carpenter to shamelessly ripping off George Miller when everything turns into Mad Max 2 as Two Tribes by Frankie Goes To Hollywood blasts over the soundtrack.
A violent, goofy diversion that’s nowhere near as good as the director’s previous works, Doomsday’s failings are hardly the end of the world but it isn’t exactly the salvation of mankind either…