HalloWWEen: DOOM

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DOOM and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures

Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak

Welcome one and all to this most SPOOKY time of the year!  For this Halloween, I’ll be reviewing horror movies as I’ve been known to do on occasion, only this time we’ll be doing something a LITTLE bit different!  With my recent fascination in the WWE and wrestling in general, I thought it’d be interesting to check out a few horror movies from some of the company’s most iconic stars, starting with the often maligned DOOM movie from 2005!  DOOM was one of the biggest attempts to bring a video game to the big screen but ended up bombing at the box office which kind of put the whole idea of adaptation these properties on hold for a while there; leaving the genre to be dominated by Resident Evil sequels and Uwe Boll until around 2016 when studios started getting confident once again and movies OTHER than Resident Evil could start making money.  Is it as bad people say it is, or is this Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson vehicle just a diamond in the rough looking for the right critic to give it the polish it needs?  Let’s find out!!

Before the opening credits we get a bit of narration which tells us that humans discovered a portal on Earth that led to Mars, and now that I think about it… isn’t that the plot of John Carter of Mars?  Why haven’t they run with that yet!?  Maybe that’s the surprise twist in DOOM: Eternal.  Now obviously with this being a DOOM movie, nothing can go well once you get your ass to Mars which these unlucky scientists are currently learning as the prologue picks up right as things are going to hell; literally I’m sure.  They are RUNNING their asses off to try and get away from some unseen (presumably demonic) threat, and the situation is SO critical that the fastest sprinter locks the sliding doors behind him; leaving the slower ones to die in very gory fashion!

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This is what happens when you don’t hold the elevator door.

The jerk scientist manages to get a distress call out before the door bursts open, and if you weren’t quite sure yet that we were blatantly ripping off Aliens, we cut to a team of Marines made up of colorful characters who are sent out to investigate the distress signal and are more or less working directly for the company (in this case UAC) who’s facility is under siege.  Now to be fair, that’s not necessarily a BAD thing as Aliens is a fantastic movie and it’s a formula that isn’t all THAT hard for someone to replicate to decent results.  Heck, the game DOOM is already kind of an Aliens rip off to begin with, so why not just lean into it?  The team itself is pretty solid with a (comparatively) skinny THE ROCK leading the squad as well as Karl Urban as our obvious protagonist, and even the obviously disposable ones are played with a lot more heart than you’d expect given DOOM’s reputation.  You’ve got an absolute skeez-bag (Richard Brake), the dude LITERALLY referred to as THE KID (Al Weaver), one hip black dude and one serious black dude (Razaaq Adoti and DeObia Oparei), the religious guy (Ben Daniels), and the Asian guy (Yao Chin); all of whom are definitely archetypes, but they’ve assembled a solid cast to play these roles even if they don’t really have much to offer compared to the cast of Aliens or even Predator, though the Asian guy is an absolute sore spot here as he’s only in it for about five minutes; guarding the door and doing a joke about his name before… dying I think?  Yeah, I’m pretty sure he dies at some point, but I can’t even remember how it happens if that tells you anything about his role.  Don’t feel too bad for Mr. Chin though.  He may not have been a big name actor, but his career after this movie as a reporter is SO far above being in a succession of B-Action movies.

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Pour one out for Asian Guy.  May he have better luck in a Crazy Rich Asians sequel!

Still, you can’t deny that DIET ROCK is a compelling screen presence even this early into his career, and probably the single best aspect of this movie is his character (codename Sarge) and his rather interesting arc.  He’s a no nonsense leader and believes in following orders, but he has room for compassion as the guy clearly knows better than to just bark orders incessantly in order to get his team to function at its full potential.  Early on, he checks in with Karl Urban (codename Reaper though I’m still gonna use Karl Urban because it sounds WAY cooler) whose character has a bad history with the mars base (his parents were scientists who died there when he was a kid) and it’s really endearing to see that he does care about his team which makes what will eventually happen to Dwayneson “The Rockson” Johnson all the more tragic.  Before we get that far ahead though, we actually need to GET to the Martian Research Facility which is… interesting to say the least.  As I said, there’s some sort of portal on Earth which will take them to Mars, and apparently this portal is not only on US soil which is pretty convenient, but that UAC has also constructed a research facility around the darn thing.  Except… maybe not?  I mean… the portal isn’t just SITTING there; they can summon the portal whenever they want which seems more like they BUILT a portal than FOUND one, but I guess stuff like “plot consistency” wasn’t high on the priority list; especially when you’ve got bigger things to worry about like the size of the guns and how many times you can convince John “The Dwayne” Rockson to arch his eyebrow before he asks for a raise.

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And Bones thought that the Enterprise’s transporter was a finicky death trap!

Now that’s not to say that NOTHING in here is thought out as once we get to the research facility on Mars the money is clearly there to try and make this place look like an ACTUAL building that people would work in (if still a bit sci-fi exaggerated) which is more than I can say about DOOM 3.  Then again, it DOES seem like a design flaw for a mode of travel that always makes you vomit to not have sinks at the landing area, but whatever.  Our heroes are on Mars, and they’re there to solve a problem!  First, everything stays on lock down.  No one can go on or off of Mars for at least six hours and the Asian Guy (codename Mac) is to guard the teleporter to make sure of that; assisted by one of the head scientists there named Pinky (Dexter Fletcher).  The rest of the team will split up into groups to search the sections of the lab where the “incident” occurred and see if there are any survivors, and Karl Urban will go with one of the scientists to collect the research data in case the situation REALLY gets out of hand and UAC needs to abandon the base entirely.  That scientist by the way just so happens to be… his sister Samantha!  PLAYED BY ROSAMUND PIKE!?  I mean sure, this was STILL pretty early in her film career, but WOW is that an odd bit of casting trivia!

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I saw what you did in Gone Girl!  I bet you set this all up yourself!!

This is where we get to the meat of the movie and gosh darn it, they just couldn’t help themselves!  As brightly lit and humanely designed as the rest of the facility is, these sections of the research facility are bathed in near total darkness and look like they’re in spark factories.  What science lab has THIS many pipes all over the place AND uses grated floors!?  I guess we can now see that DOOM 3 was the biggest influence on this movie, but it’s not all bad!  As much as I’d prefer something not so obviously stagey looking, the scenes of them exploring the facility are decently intense and the actors really get to shine here; giving off plenty of subtle personality in scenes that would otherwise be overly mechanical in execution.  That said, one of the funniest parts of the whole movie is this bit here where The Dwayne flips on a light switch AFTER they’ve chased down some sort of creature.  You’re telling me this is the only light source you could find!?

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“Wow!  That’s WAY better than just using these ineffective flashlights!  Why are we hiding in the dark again?”     “So the monsters can’t see us!”     “But… aren’t we looking for them?”     “HOLD YOUR TONGUE, PRIVATE!!”     “Again with the “private” crap…”

At least they now have their first break in the case; namely that the “creature” they found was none of than Dr. Jerkwad from the beginning of the movie whose real name is Dr. Carmack (har har har), and he’s a bit worse for wear since we saw him last.  He’s covered in bruises, cuts, and is even clutching a severed arm that’s definitely not his own, and he’s not really reacting to anything they’re saying.  In fact, when they try to get close to him, he… rips his left ear off?  Okay… well they never really explain what that’s about, but everyone figures they should take him to the medical wing while the rest of the team goes to find out if any of the other scientists are out there, though now they’re switching Karl Urban out with Hip Black Guy (codename Duke) who goes with Samantha and the rather banged up Dr. Carmack.  Oh I’m sure he’ll be fine!

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“Save the cheerleader… save the world…”

There are more scenes of the scattered groups searching dark rooms for whatever is out there and now is probably a good time to discuss the major problem with this movie because we’re about to smack right in the middle of it.  The biggest flaw is that it’s just clumsy at points; as if they knew ahead of time that they WEREN’T making the next Aliens and therefore didn’t have to be as meticulous as they should have been.  There are things that REALLY work well in here like the action scenes, the acting from the entire cast, and even some of the changes to the source material which we’ll go into more detail later, but you can see where things could have been made better or how certain ideas aren’t thought out well enough which brings down a lot of the good that this movie is doing.  For example, the scumbag marine (codename Portman) is searching with THE KID and they come across a naked woman who turns around and reveals herself to be the scientist who got her arm cut off at the beginning of the movie (the arm that Carmack was also carrying around for some reason) and has also started to transform into sort of zombie monster thing that they mercilessly shoot down; giving us very little doubt as to what’s gonna happen to Carmack.  No one else in the entire movie is naked except this one woman because I guess an R rated movie has to have a nude scene in it, and it feels completely out of place and inconsistent with everything else we’ve seen in here.  There’s stuff like this throughout the movie where ideas they have are only partially thought out as well as pretty much ALL of the joke will come off as utterly crass and pointless; most of the latter sadly being attributed to Richard Brake.  It’s not a BAD performance that he’s giving here and the guy has been damn good in other movies (he was Doom-Head in Rob Zombie’s 31 as well as having a solid cameo in Mandy) but he is WAY too much in this movie and is far too obnoxious to be a FUN jerk.  If they had pulled back on him a bit so that he wasn’t outright harassing people or making situations much worse it could have been salvaged because Richard Brake really is that good of an actor, but instead he’s just emblematic of the less than solid scripting that takes you out of the movie periodically.

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Oh, YOU!!

That said, I do like the overarching story they’re telling here as well as the pacing which keeps things moving even in the more exposition heavy moments.  While the team is hunting down ANOTHER creature (this one seemingly an actual monster as opposed to a guy with less than stellar hygiene and a woman with a nudity clause in her contract), it’s becoming more and more clear that whatever experiments were being done in Carmack’s lab is responsible for this incident as well as the slowly escalating sense of danger due to the degradation of Carmack himself and anyone the marines happen to find along the way.  We see more and more of the facility (leading to an actually pretty suspenseful scene in a sewer of all places) as the danger mounts and there’s seemingly no real answers despite obtaining plenty of evidence of something screwy going on; not being helped by the fact that the nearly comatose Carmack seems to have just up and disappeared from the medical lab.  Come on Duke!  YOU HAD ONE JOB!!  Well I guess we don’t need him as the marines bring back their latest kill which is definitely not human.  The bad news however is that one Religious Guy (codename Goat) was bitten by whatever it was and has died, though I guess it’s not TOO much of a loss as he was easily the blandest of the crew.  Say what you will about Richard Brake; at least he HAS a definable personality!  With the stakes effectively raised, the marines call an end to the quarantine and send everyone else on the facility back to Earth; leaving just them, Pinky, and Samantha to face whatever it is that’s roaming in Carmack’s lab; even taking Mac along while leaving Pinky to defend himself should anything get that far into the other parts of the facility.  This is also the point where Dwayne Johnson’s arc really comes into play as the increasingly bizarre circumstances of this mission are clearly getting to him despite the fact that he HAS to stay in control of the situation at all costs.  Seriously, you think he’s great in movies NOW?  Watch him in this before his persona was so highly protected.

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“The Rock wants some answers, and he’s not about to let you candy asses give him the run around, you hear!?”

The intensity that he brings to his performance is brilliant and perfectly foreshadows his villainous turn later on without making him clearly an out and out bad guy.  Honestly, if he would just take another chance at villain role like this instead of PG-13 Bad AssTM, he’d knock it out of the park and probably be THAT much closer to getting some Oscar Gold.  With everything on lock down and Rockington Johnington in full on mission mode, Samantha and Duke are trying to perform an autopsy on whatever it was that the marines killed in the sewers (I GUESS it’s supposed to be an imp from the games?) when they get attacked by yet ANOTHER one of those monsters.  Fortunately Duke manages to be competent this time and the two trap it in… I don’t know, some sort of overly complicated door thingy (imagine a sci-fi version of a video game character getting stuck in the level geometry) which means they NOW have a live sample to work on!  In fact, maybe now’s a good time to get into THE LORE as it were and see how this differs from the games.  First and foremost, there is no portal to hell and none of the creatures we see are actually demons.  It turns out that the original Martians had perfected genetic mutations and based on what Samantha and Duke learn from the two samples, it seems that Dr. Carmack was injecting test subject with what they believe was… I guess the Super Solider Serum, and with basically the same results of everyone else OTHER than Steve Rogers.  One must have gotten lose or one of the scientists weren’t careful with their needles, so an outbreak occurred and everyone started turning into mutants with the big revelation being that the creature they have stuck in a wall now IS DR. CARMACK!  DOOM SHOCK!!  Now I’ll be upfront and say that my understanding of the games is pretty limited despite having played at least some of each one, but I really don’t have a problem with this.  Demons?  Mutants?  They’re functionally identical here and it at least gives us a reasonable sense of scope for what our heroes should be striving for.  If your villain is Hell itself, when do you OFFICIALLY win the war against them?  Here, you just have to destroy whoever may have been infected before they kill everyone aboard the facility and potentially escape to Earth.  I’m not saying a more faithful adaptation COULDN’T work (supposedly there’s another DOOM movie in development), but for this film and what it’s trying to do, it seems like the more sensible approach to the material.  Focus less on the specific minutia of the lore and instead try and get the look and feel right, though even then they still deviate heavily from the core themes of Doom which we’ll get to later.  Anyway, the marines are trying to find whatever creatures are still alive which is going about as well as you’d expect.  Oh hey!  We just found the part where Mac dies!  No wonder I forgot about it because it’s literally a three second scene where a monster decapitates him.  Gruesome and shocking to be sure, but somewhat undercut by the lighting issues that have plagued a lot of the action scenes.  Again, it seems like there was only THE ONE light switch in ALL of these corridors.  With yet another man down and an increasingly panicked John Dwayne, the team splits up which seems like a VERY bad idea if you ask me!  Dwayne is off to get a bigger gun (take a guess which one!), Portman is off to take a dump, and the Serious Black Guy (codename Destroyer) who hasn’t had much to do in this movie gets to be in probably the best action scene in the whole movie with its only real competition being the climax itself.  Now the setup is a bit weird as he gets attacked and thrown down a giant hole by one of the monsters, and said hole has electrified walls because it was some sort of holding cell I guess.  Seems a bit much when A LOCKED DOOR would probably do, but it means that the monster and Destroyer get to face off in a death pit with the latter swinging a dang computer monitor around like it’s a chain mace!

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“SEMPER VISTA, MOTHER FUCKER!!”

See THIS is the ridiculous bullshit that I wanted to see in a DOOM movie, got from the initial DOOM games, was completely lacking in DOOM 3, and brought back with New DOOM!  It’s well choreographed, Deobia Oparei does a great job of selling the action, and the soundtrack is pretty dang rocking!  Of course nothing can really match the level of awesomeness from the ACTUAL DOOM theme, but what we’ve got works here!  Sadly Destroyer doesn’t make it as the monster gets the better of him, and we slow things down a bit for Portman’s last stand which I’ll give them credit for as it’s a decent bit of contrast between the bombast of the pit fight and the slow creeping terror of trying to find something that may or may not be in the room.  That said, WHY THE HECK DIDN’T HE TURN ON THE BATHROOM LIGHTS!?  It’s not like the electricity has been knocked out or anything, so did he just DECIDE to poop in the dark!?  I couldn’t possibly comprehend what it’s like in Richard Brake’s head, so I’ll just leave that question rhetorical and just say that he bites it when a monster seemingly smashes through the ceiling and picks him up to… I guess eat his head or something.  This is also the scene where Rock Johnson shows off The BFG and it’s another stumble for the film which is a shame because it’s such an iconic part of the franchise and the film had been a rather high note for the last fifteen or so minutes.  I don’t know, the gun LOOKS big and scary, but the sound it makes is rather muted, blast itself looks kinda mushy instead of impactful, and he even MISSES his target, so it’s not like it DID anything useful the first time we see it.

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“The aiming on this is terrible!  WHERE ARE THE IRON SIGHTS!?”

At this point it’s time to regroup once again as Johnny Rocker has lost two more men and needs to throw a chair at something, so he and the rest of his crew (whittled down to just Karl Urban and THE KID) head back to the lab to check in on Samantha and Duke to find the situation as we left it not long ago.  Samantha informs them of what they’ve learned (THE MONSTERS ARE PEOPLE!!) and sadly we have another one of those poorly thought out ideas; this time dealing with the new lore they’re establishing.  Okay, so we already established that the scientists were using some sort of genetic modifier to try and turn humans into SUPER humans.  Well apparently the Steve Rogers comparison was right on the money because this chemical has a MORAL component to it and only creates monsters out of “bad people”.  If you inject yourself with it and you’re GOOD, then you’ll get the Captain America treatment.  If you’re BAD, then you’ll get turned into a giant pulsating monstrosity.  So not only is this some very heavy handed foreshadowing (I WONDER IF SOMEONE HERE WILL INJECT THEMSELVES WITH THE CHEMICAL AT SOME POINT!), but the idea that your personality is somehow encoded into your DNA and therefore alterations to it can somehow know to turn you into a goody super human or a mean old monster is pretty much the textbook definition of eugenics even if the distinction between GOOD and EVIL isn’t explicitly tied to someone’s race/ethnicity/etc.  They even pull out the tired old Sci-Fi trope of how ten percent of the human genome is still unmapped (eh… arguably I guess) and how that could refer to the SOUL gene or something.  Again, what was a decent enough explanation for there being monsters on Mars was not thought out as well as it should have been and so we have this crap thrown at us right as we head into the third act.

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“Well of course he turned into a monster! What else would you expect for the guy who made Quake 2!?”

Said third act kicks off by the way when one of the monsters somehow manages to make it to the teleporter (Pinky is nowhere to be found) and is therefore at the UAC on Earth.  The Rockster, who seems to have FINALLY snapped under the pressure, institutes a full on genocide policy.  If it breathes; kill it.  Everyone at the facility HAS to die or else the infection will spread to the surface even though it seems clear that SOME people may only get super powers (I think?) instead of turning into monsters.  This whole section of the movie feels a bit confused as the movie never really establishes what it LOOKS like for someone who doesn’t turn into a monster to be infected, and there’s no indication that they couldn’t then spread the infection to someone who WILL turn into a monster, so even if it’s clear that Dwayneson is going over the line and his indiscriminate killing is not the solution, we’re not getting much of an alternative from Samantha and Urban.  The argument still seems to be compelling however as THE KID takes their side and refuses to follow the Kill Order which means it’s time for one half of the Rock and Sock Connection to start handing out disciplinary citations.  WITH BULLETS!!

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“Remember me not as The Kid… but as THE MAN!!”

Sadly there isn’t enough time for Karl Urban (or even Duke) to rightfully take out Evil Johnson because a giant monster comes out of nowhere and they have to start fighting their way through it and the rest of the hoard at the facility.  Justice gets served at least a little bit though because one of the monsters manages to grab the Stoney Jerk and drag him off, though another monster manages to take out Duke as well; leaving Karl Urban and Samantha to fend for themselves; not an easy feat when Urban got injured in the process.  With nothing left to lose, Samantha injects him with one of those Super Power vials as a last ditch effort to keep him alive in the hopes that he’s a good enough guy to NOT turn into a monster.  The camera fades out, he wakes up some time later… and it begins!  You know what I’m talking about!  The one thing that everyone knows about this movie even if they haven’t seen it!  THE FIRST PERSON SCENE!!

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“Same shit, different day!”

As much as things got really messy for a bit there in the third act, this really picks things up as it’s a genuinely fun scene to watch, and I don’t think this scene gets enough credit for how well-crafted it is.  I mean really, is it ANY sillier than when Inaratu does his One Take shots?  Okay yes, BUT that doesn’t mean that it’s not a really effective and imaginative sequence!  Look, there are movies that succeed almost entirely on its gore, action scenes, or any number of seemingly low brow factors, which is not a slight against those movies and I think that, for what it’s trying to do, this movie succeeds with flying colors on that front.  You take a movie like Assassin’s Creed which is another video game adaptation that also has all the pretensions of being a high minded and serious action film with things to say about society, morality, and it’s all just utter garbage.  The pretensions do not in any way help the movie and frankly feel disingenuous when you see the final product.  What is DOOM supposed to be?  Shooting hell beasts on Mars.  What do you get in this movie?  SHOOTING HELL BEASTS ON MARS!  They came up with creative scenarios, decently staged action scenes, and one killer set piece that’s unlike anything we’ve seen before in the genre!  Heck, even when Found Footage was a thing for a while there, we never really got another movie to recapture that kind of fun cheesy goodness until Hardcore Henry over a decade after this!  Even once the scene comes to an end, we’ve still got a solid climax to get to as it turns out that Sargent Johnson ISN’T dead; rather he’s been infected as well but seems to be some sort of hybrid between Monster Form and Super Solider Form which actually makes sense considering how well they handled his character arc as a good man who’s demons are revealed and take over during this horrifying experience.  Okay, MAYBE “good man” is a bit much since he was willing to jump to massacring civilians, but I still think they handled his character with a lot more aplomb than you’d expect from a movie like this.

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“Game over, Jabroni!”

And so they fight and fight and fight, and baring ONE gaff where you can clearly see the wire harness on John Rockington, is a damn fine action scene where both actors show off some bad ass moves including this one bit where Demon Dwayne takes a wire rod and wraps it around his arm with the jagged end pointing right above his fist.  Sure, kung-fu hyper stylized action was never a part of the DOOM formula, but the bombast fits in just fine and gives this movie a very satisfying conclusion.  After nearly getting stabbed to death by Jerk Johnson, Karl Urban just barely gets an upper hand on him and opens up the teleporter to send his ass BACK to Mars along with a grenade that’s apparently strong enough to blow up The People’s Champion along with the Mars Base.  DAMN!  That’s almost as impressive as when Bond blew up that hotel in Quantum of Solace with like four bullets!  And so the movie ends with Karl Urban surviving this hellish journey with nothing left but his sister and some badass super powers!  Maybe he’ll get a job at a carnival where he can crush cars for tips!

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“All of a sudden, Star Fleet doesn’t seem so bad…”

Is this a great movie?  Not really.  I mean I enjoy the hell out of it despite its flaws, but those flaws are pretty darn big to overlook especially with Richard Brake making things a bit too uncomfortable at points, but this movie’s reputation as one of the REALLY bad video game movies feels very much unearned considering how much it does right in capturing the SPIRIT of a video game without being slavish to what studios often THINK people want from them.  This movie doesn’t really feel like a recreation of the game.  The iconography is there and the tone is pretty consistent, but this is an entirely different dynamic from what the games were about; namely isolation.  While some may consider that a betrayal of the source material (or just a bad decision when making any movie like this), I’m glad that they had the freedom to make that change and to take that risk.  Recent video game adaptations don’t feel like they can break away or take significant liberties with the material they’re working with and I don’t know if that has to do with the filmmakers THINKING that game narratives need to be taken SUPER seriously, or if there are much stricter licensing deals now than there were a decade or two ago.  If it’s the latter, it’d actually be kind of funny that the same thing that ruined so many movie based games (strict and oppressive licensing deals) is making recent video game movies so lackluster.  Assassin’s Creed, despite not taking the narrative directly from any specific game, is unmistakably an Assassin’s Creed narrative from beginning to end.  Tomb Raider is practically a note for note remake of the first game in the reboot series with much less magic and therefore less interesting.  Warcraft is so dense with mythology and details from the games that even having never played the dang things I could see how much of it was pure fan-service.  What was it all for?  What great films have been made by sticking so close to the formula?  There’s always been an obsession with video game movies about making THE GOOD ONE which means one that garners the respect of filmmakers and the film press at large; a validation that video games are just as good and respectable as movies.  This mindset more than anything else has felt very stifling in recent years for video game movies which there are more coming out every year but to increasingly less engaging results.  Hell, if you want to talk ENJOYABLE video game movies, you still have to go for the low hanging fruit like that recent Hitman movie which I enjoyed FAR more than Warcraft or Assassin’s Creed.  Ambition isn’t a bad thing, but we’ve seen time and time again that you can’t count your chickens before they hatch, yet these studios are continuously throwing absurd amounts of money at these properties to then try and make what are essentially cinematic Let’s Plays.  DOOM is far from the best video game movie out there (that’d probably be one of the Resident Evil movies) and as an action film on its own it’s only SOMEWHAT above mediocre, but the point of this long winded review is less that DOOM is a forgotten gem worthy of praise (even if I do like it a lot), rather this is about trying to at least come to terms with it as a film that doesn’t deserve the bottom of the barrel reputation it deserves and to find out what we can LEARN from it as many of its strengths have been outright missing in more recent video game adaptations.  What I’m saying is, next Assassin’s Creed movie?  Get The Rock!  Planning a sequel to Tomb Raider?  Lara Croft is now played by The Rock!  Someone finally gets Toby Fox to sign off on an Undertale movie?  You bet your candy ass that Papyrus is played by The Rock!  That and understanding the core appeal of the game rather than succumbing to fan service, both in terms of its script and the slavish devotion to specific iconography, but most importantly, GET THE ROCK!!

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