Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, May 14, 2019


While its hard to quantify these things, the original “Doom” truly is among video gaming's most influential titles. While the game didn't invent the first-person shooter, it popularized the concept to such a degree that games in that genre were originally called “Doom clones.” Not to mention the game's overall affect on gaming culture – modding, the controversy, so on and so forth – is hard to overstate. In 2004, “Doom 3” would push the somewhat dormant demon-slaying franchise into more of a survival horror orientated direction. The sequel was a huge success and, before it was even released, a cinematic adaptation entered development. 2005's “Doom,” however, would not replicate the game series' popularity. It came and went from theaters quickly and was soon forgotten. 

“Doom” is set around 2046, the filmmakers apparently believing humanity will successfully colonize Mars within the next twenty-six years. The Union Aerospace Corporation has discovered strange fossils of genetically enhanced humanoids near their Martian compound. The lessons learned from those fossils are soon clandestinely applied to humans. This results in an infectious virus sweeping through the compound, turning people already prone to violence into hideous monsters. A group of space marines are sent in to search for and rescue any survivors. Led by “Sarge,” the team is unprepared for the horrors that await them. Emotionally traumatized Sgt. John Grimm, nicknamed “Reaper,” emerges as the unlikely hero.

Despite “Doom's” prominent place in video game history, there's probably a good reason twelve years passed before a movie was made. The original “Doom” doesn't have much of a plot. Its story largely boils down to “A gateway to Hell is opened on Mars and then a bad-ass space marine kills every demon that pops out.” Sadly, screenwriters David Calaham and Wesley Strick expand on that concept in disappointing ways. All references to Hell and demons are removed, much of the series' identity and flavor going with it. This leaves us with another uninspired “Aliens” rip-off, about a group of overconfident space marines going into a facility and being killed off by the creatures there. The game's creature designs are largely discarded too, some of the monsters even looking like xenomorphs. It seems the first “Resident Evil” movie was an influence too, as there are similar scenes of tough dudes firing at zombies.

There's not much attempt to expand past “Aliens'” blueprint, save for mildly clever scenes involving high-tech doors or electrified walls. Director Andrzej Bartkowiak, who previous directed a trilogy of action films starring DMX, does not add much flair to the action scenes. “Doom” is visually a dark movie, far too many scenes devoted to people firing aimlessly into the dark or fumbling around in shadowy rooms. While there are a few acrobatic fight scenes, such as the closing brawl between the hero and villain, most of “Doom's” action is pretty forgettable...  Save for a brilliant moment, late in the film, where the camera assumes Reaper's POV. We are then treating to a thrilling, beautifully directed sequence of fighting monsters and blasting demons. As is “Doom” tradition, driving heavy metal blares on the soundtrack and there's even a chainsaw. This one scene is the only time “Doom” really comes to life or, indeed, feels much like its inspiration at all.

I'll admit, there is an attempt to deepen the material. Reaper's sister is the project's head scientist. The two grew up on Mars and a family tragedy occurred near the film's setting. This is an attempt to make the protagonist deeper that largely comes off as somewhat shallow, especially during a ham-fisted audio memory. On the other hand, the way the virus only mutates already violent people is an interesting premise. This leads to an mildly interesting switch-a-roo, concerning who the bad guy turns out to be. A smarter film might've been able to weave a point about how the military desensitizes people towards violence or macho toxicity from this concept. “Doom” isn't that smart or interesting, so the idea doesn't amount to much.

“Doom” was made fairly early into the film career of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. This was back when Johnson's incredible charm was too often shackled to flatly blustering bad-asses. So Sarge is a fairly one-note guy, even after his monster-y face-heel turn. Johnson's still growing acting skills are used to gruffly bark cliché military dialogue. Karl Urban actually attempts some acting as Reaper, trying to add some depth, but he frequently comes off as more confused than conflicted. (Rosamund Pike plays his sister, breathlessly delivering a lot of exposition.) A nice touch has each of the marines giving video game-like nicknames that describe their personalities. So the new-comer is 'The Kid,” the touch black guy is “Destroyer.” You get the idea. Of this lot, a smart-ass Richard Brake is the most entertaining as “Dean.”

“Doom” failed to recoup its budget at the box office, coming up just shy of its 60 million dollar expense. While you can maybe blame this on a number of things – the Rock still finding his footing as a blockbuster star, the movie coming long after “Doom's” peak popularity – I think the general quality of the film and the lack of the resemblance to the source material is the true culprit. A new “Doom” movie is scheduled to come out this year, being released direct-to-DVD. It says a lot about how forgettable this adaptation is that even that belated and low budget follow-up will be unconnected to this movie. [5/10]

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