Have you ever wondered what would happen if a hot Cyborg Secret Agent had to battle a Knight with full medieval plate armor in a post-apocalyptically feudal Scotland? If your answer is no, then you probably have no business watching Doomsday, the latest film from Neil Marshall.
This past weekend presented a dearth of new releases that appealed to me but I still felt like seeing a movie, so I decided to catch an early showing of Doomsday without much enthusiasm. I ended up liking the film way more than I thought I would. I’ve never seen a movie that managed to be so profoundly stupid at the same time as it was ridiculously awesome.
The screenplay must read like something the weird kid with severe ADD in Junior High would write jacked up on Red Bull after an all night-action movie marathon. It’s peppered with set pieces that are pulled whole cloth from 80s action films. The plot of Doomsday, such as it is, unfolds into a spicy melange of equal parts 28 Days Later (the virus in the U.K.), Aliens (the team enters Glasgow in some suspiciously familiar vehicles, complete with armor and helmet cams that send images back to a combat controller), the Mad Max series (the villains could have walked off an Australian soundstage), and Escape from New York (a dystopic rescue mission with a strict time limit), with a hint of Excalibur (knights in armor fighting on horseback) and just a dash of Pulp Fiction (there is a Gimp present).
In the future the U.K. has had to create a quarantine wall separating Scotland from the rest of the country for thirty years after the outbreak of the “Reaper Virus.” Most everyone dies, but a few survive. The rest of the British Isles are blockaded by the rest of the world and in this creatively imagined future London is a squalid, overcrowded mess. When signs of the infection begin to surface in the south, the government sends Secret Agent Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) and her Cybernetic Eyeball (she can pop it out to see around corners) to lead a team of cannon fodder on a covert mission to Glasgow to find the survivors and see if they have a cure.
It should come as a surprise to no one that the survivors she finds are not willing to cooperate. They have degenerated into two warring factions. On the one side are the Road Warrior Rejects, a group of cannibalistic shoulder pad aficionados lead by mohawk enthusiast Sol (Craig Conway).
On the other side are those survivors who have taken refuge in an abandoned castle in the Highlands and reverted to a feudal society lead by Kane ( a gloriously hammy Malcolm MacDowell), a former research scientist who has gone a little Mr. Kurtz and now prefers to wear fur cloaks and make intruders to his realm fight his heavily armored enforcer in ritual combat.
Eden Sinclair ends up on the run from both in a climactic car chase right out of the Road Warrior. But I just kind of shrugged and sat back for the ride because by that point I was drawn in, willing to suspend not just my disbelief but also the part of my brain that does the critical thinking. Improbably, Marshall had drawn me in.
Taken separately, each element of Doomsday is strong enough to carry a film (and most of them have) but taken together, they form a whole that is patently ridiculous. Yet I could not look away. Despite the frenetic pace of the film and the slapdash way the story coheres, Marshall the director makes up for the excesses of Marshall the screenwriter. There are numerous explosions and seriously gory bits, but the action never gets confusing. In the end, this is no masterpiece, but Doomsday holds together better than you might expect and creates something that is likable, if less than coherent.