With Dog Soldiers (2002) and Descent (2005), director Neil Marshall proved himself a skilled cinematic chef, able to take the standard ingredients of a genre film and with the application of spice and style serve up a an unexpectedly gourmet dish. It comes as a bit of a disappointment then, that Doomsday seems like Marshall is trying to recreate the dimly remembered taste of a perfect cheeseburger consumed some summery day in his youth. It may be well prepared, but it is still just a cheeseburger, lacking the nuance in taste that his previous filmic dishes have had.
In just a few weeks, a plague will begin to decimate Scotland to the point where the only option is to barricade the entire country behind a fortified wall to contain it. Twenty-five years later, it appears that crowded conditions in London have led to a re-emergence of the deadly virus. Tough as nails cop Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) – who escaped the quarantine of Scotland as a child when her mother put her onto a helicopter Fall-of-Saigon style – is recruited to lead a mission into the Scotland quarantine zone behind the wall. It turns out that the government had been monitoring the zone with satellites and three years earlier had discovered there were survivors in the cities. If there are survivors, there must be a cure and Sinclair’s group has 48 hours to find it. However, the survivors that they find are not very happy at having been left to die a quarter of a century earlier.
In the midst of all this, we have to wonder why Marshall seems to be trying to recreate a mélange of genre films from the 1980s. The basic premise borrows heavily from Escape From New York, but at least Marshall acknowledges it by naming one of his characters Carpenter. The Scottish castle location in the film’s second act recalls Highlander while the finale is nothing more than The Road Warrior on crystal meth. He even works in a sly reference to television’s Max Headroom. The inclusion of Adam Ant, Fine Young Cannibals and Frankie Goes To Hollywood on the soundtrack do nothing to deter one from thinking about that decade.
While there is nothing wrong with making a film that serves as an homage to the past, Doomsday feels as if it is about nothing but the homage. The characters are nothing more than the most basic of stock. Sinclair’s backstory is only a reason for the character to be tough, it isn’t anything that feels that it really drives her story. Once she is behind the wall, it is quickly forgotten and never developed. Even worse is an actor like Bob Hoskins is treated, saddled with a character whose purpose is to provide exposition in the beginning and then stand around until the plot needs him to unintentionally deliver some ironic justice to a character. Though derivative, the action is still well staged and delivers some thrills. It is just unfortunate that the film is nothing but empty calories.