Brace yourselves, I’m going to use some words that cause many of us to squirm and feel generally uncomfortable. No it isn’t “moist” or “Fifty Shades of Grey sequel”, but a phrase that gamers, and probably the general movie going public have come to dread; “movie adaptation of a video game”.
Over the last quarter of a century (yes it’s been going on for that long!) many have tried and many have failed to break the video game adaptation curse. From the much-mocked Super Mario Bros in 1993 to the most recent releases of Tomb Raider and Dwayne Johnson’s second bite of the Pacman cherry, Rampage in 2018.
Now I was as surprised as anyone when Dwayne went in for another round, but honestly for me his first time will always be the best, and if you didn’t already guess from the title I’m going to share my love for the absolutely glorious and ridiculous Doom.
I adore this film, it never fails to cheer me up. On the Venn diagram of good and bad films, Doom inhabits that overlapping slice in the middle. The guilty pleasure, the so bad it’s actually good. People will, and do disagree with me, and once I admit I’ve only ever played Doom once (Doom II: Hell on Earth on an MS-DOS computer in 1994 for about 5 minutes) you will probably disagree with me even more.
Hear me out. To support my defence I’m going to use the “Cake Fails” argument. For every Instagram worthy, beautifully decorated, I can’t believe that’s actually not a unicorn cake, there’s a cake that looks like someone threw some icing on a bit of roadkill.
There have been video game films that could have been unicorns. World of Warcraft was written and directed by Duncan Jones, who gave us Moon and Source Code. Assassins Creed had a ridiculously stellar, award-winning, cast featuring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons and Brendan Gleeson.
With these sorts of ingredients in the mix you’re expecting, or at least hoping for a multi-tiered mocha-choca, salted caramel showstopper with layers of ganache and sprinkles. Instead what you actually get is a demonic hedgehog cake with chocolate fingers impaling its body and a rictus foam teeth grim. You know what I’m talking about!
Doom however is a little nugget of joy born from bargain basement ingredients. There was no real plot to the game franchise prior to the film. Even the 90s novels were only loosely based on the games and went off in a completely different direction by the end of the series.
In terms of acting chops Dwayne was still going by “The Rock” and his notable roles included a poorly rendered CGI man-scorpion and a reluctant bodyguard chasing down Seann William Scott in the Brazilian jungle. Likewise Karl Urban was predominantly known as the dude that killed Jason Bourne’s girlfriend in the Bourne Supremacy, or Macbeth with a space-mullet in Chronicles of Riddick.
So far, so hedgehog.
The plot itself is more like Resident Evil on Mars with the antagonists being a result of splicing genes with random Martian chromosomes which can work out if you’re more Slytherin than Griffindor. We also have our standard Breakfast Club gang of marines; the sarge, the reluctant hero, the kid, the joker, the religious one, the tank, the sleazeball everyone hates. This is a pretty established trope in these films. If you don’t believe me, check out Aliens, Predator, The Losers or any films that feature a gang of mercenaries or marines and you’ll spot them.
Doom initially tries to follow in the footsteps of another well-known plucky band of heroes take on an in-human alien/zombie menace and it fails to hit the mark here. It wants to be Aliens, but where you’re onside with the Sulaco crew almost straight away, the marines in Doom lack any of their charm. In fact, these marines are probably the worst marines in the world to the point I can only assume that recruitment standards are slipping or non-existent in 2046.
This is a team riddled with massive personality and psychological issues. Portman is a walking sexual harassment case and drug dealer, The Kid is an addict, Goat has taken religious dedication a bit too far and Destroyer and Mac are just there to round out the numbers.
Hand on heart I’d say maybe the first 65% of the film is absolute garbage, it tries too hard to be something it isn’t and there’s no real emotional impact when any of the marines get taken out. It’s only really towards the end when the film hits its stride. It goes for a bit expectation subversion having Dwayne’s character slowly revealed as the villain and Urban rising as the hero. Although if you look closely the signs were there, he has the whole Batman dead parents thing going on and his first name is John, the most hero-y of all hero names (see John Wick, John Matrix, John Connor, John McClaine, John Rambo… I could go on!).
Then of course we have the legendary five minute FPS sequence. It’s just brilliant adrenaline fuelled daftness where you can feel your twitch reflexes go for the trigger buttons as mutants pop up like haunted house dummies. I took great pleasure in seeing the reload action as so many action films seem to forget that guns do occasionally need more ammo.
It’s the stand out moment and it’s brilliant. A number of critics have said that there should have been more of it but I personally think 5 minutes was more than enough. Roughly 10 years after Doom, Hardcore Henry came along but at over 90 minutes long, the first person perspective started to get really tedious and frankly dull. If I wanted to watch a load of gun-toting, roof parkouring, nonsense I would have stayed home and played Dying Light.
The end boss fight between Urban and Johnson is well choreographed and Dwyane Johnson’s performance is hammier than a pulled pork and bacon sandwich garnished with a Cumberland sausage and frazzles – I may have been hungry when I was writing this. It has flashes of the final fight in Commando, fighting mano-a-mano, trading punches and quips and I love it. I do think Urban needs to work on his one-liners though. “Go to Hell” seemed a bit unimaginative and is certainly no “let off some steam Bennett”.
Even though this film has a number of toe-curling, bum clenching fails it is still a bit of a win especially when you consider some of the hot messes that came after including the continued desecration of the Resident Evil franchise. It also wasn’t career-wrecking, Johnson and Urban went on to bigger better things as did little-known Rosamund Pike.
I guess what I’m trying to say is sometimes we need to appreciate the hedgehog. Sure it’s a mess but it’s still cake, there’s still some goodness inside, and if you go into the cinema expecting a hedgehog you’ll rarely be disappointed. Maybe one day we’ll get a perfectly formed Battenburg (I’m looking at you Detective Pikachu). Or maybe we’ll just get another hedgehog, but a really hench one like Sonic. But let’s be nice to Doom, it is after all (according to a recent Twitter poll) better than Pixels.