Neil Marshall’s Doomsday is like something you’d get from a random movie generator, with the Genre Mashup and Stylistic Overkill meters all turned up to 11. I can safely say that no other movie I have seen so freely intermixes post-apocalyptic action, medieval-level survivalism, political intrigue, zombie hordes, dead-zone infiltration squads, swordplay, gunplay, and Malcom McDowell. With a film this unrepentantly, cheerfully bonkers, Malcom McDowell is actually one of the saner things in it, which is saying a lot.
He’s not just confined to his relatively small role as (what else?) a mad scientist; he even narrates the chaotic opening scenes, which depict the United Kingdom crumbling into anarchy when a murderous Ebola-esque virus begins spreading and leaving legions of both dead and walking dead in its path. Scotland is walled off and left as a no-man’s-land, and an uneasy twenty years go by. Life becomes all the grimmer, with the all-seeing Department of Domestic Security enforcing curfews and watching sternly for any sign of another Reaper Virus outbreak.
They don’t have long to wait. Barely 15 minutes into the film, people are dropping dead once again, and the powers-that-be are having ominous conversations behind closed doors. Then comes a bombshell: satellite surveillance of Glasgow has revealed human activity. “If there are survivors, there must be a cure,” the gravelly Canaris (David O’Hara) declares—which in a movie like this has the same ring as about how people said they couldn’t see a thing on Venus; ergo, it was a jungle with dinosaurs!
Their plan is simple. Not smart, just simple. Put together a crack team to go into the hot zone, make contact with the survivors, learn about the cure (if there is one), and get back out in one piece. London’s chief of police, Nelson—the ever-dependable Bob Hoskins—has just the lone wolf for the job: Major Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra), a DDS officer so hard-boiled that even her removable body parts help fight crime. At one point Nelson tells Sinclair, “You carry on the way you’re going, you’re going to wind up one seriously f—ed up individual”—although, based on what we’ve seen, she’s already been there and back again. Her motive for joining the infiltration team: on the other side of that wall, there’s the chance, however remote, that her mother is still alive.
Into the hot zone she goes, with several other team members by her side, clad in a bio-suit and behind the wheel of an APC. Their only lead is the laboratory of Dr. Kane (McDowell), the last man known to be working on a cure for the Reaper. We’ve barely batted an eye before an endless stream of post-apoc punk-jocks descend on the team, ripping off their armor and delivering them to Sol (Craig Conway), their über-punk clan lord. He’s equal parts Genghis Khan and Keith Flint, a barbarian chieftain in a black leather jacket who rallies his troops with a jolly good roast of enemy. “We’re gonna catch ‘em, cook ‘em, and eat ‘em,” he bellows to his fellow marauders, shortly before they do exactly that.
One swordfight, decapitation, bus chase and train ride later (yes, in that order), Sinclair ends up in Kane’s castle lair in the countryside, where he presides over a medieval-level enclave and is determined to have as little to do with the outside world as possible. Like any tin-plated dictator, his hobbies include forbidding free movement and sending intruders off to die in gladiatorial games, although Sinclair and her buddies are only too happy to disappoint him on both counts. And I’m not even going to attempt to describe the finale, where Sinclair hijacks a Bentley from a cargo box and flees from a livid Sol and his buddies, the latter driving a vehicle that we’ve come to know as the “Beezelbus”.
No, logic isn’t the point here—not unless you’re talking about the movie’s own internal logic, where the crazier a plan is, the more likely it is to succeed. The point is to assault us with one wild action set-piece after another, blow stuff up, cut heads off, leaven the whole thing with knowing humor, and to wink at the audience while keeping a straight face about everything they’re referencing. I’d probably run out of disk space trying to enumerate all the movies Doomsday has begged from, borrowed, stolen and flat-out plagiarized: 28 Days Later, Escape From New York, Aliens, Damnation Alley, Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Mad Max movies, that Rutger Hauer movie about post-nuke football, and, hell, maybe even Derek Jarman’s Jubilee and The Last of England.
I hope you understand that the fact that I am enumerating in this much detail is a sign of affection. No, Doomsday is not a great movie, not even a very good one, but it is a fantastic guilty pleasure. The cast plays it totally straight, even if the director doesn’t—and oddly enough, that gives the goings-on a gravity they might not have had otherwise. I particularly liked Mitra in what amounts to her first starring role, and Alexander Siddig shows up as the sleazy mayor of London, a wholly against-type performance that’s a million miles removed from his starry-eyed turn in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
If you’re still on the fence about whether or not this is your cup of joe, let me put it this way: The final Sinclair-vs.-everyone road battle is set to Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Two Tribes”. If the mere idea of that makes you laugh, then yes, you’re probably the target audience. I should also mention that this is the first movie I have seen where someone attempts to reverse the affects of a decapitation with a generous amount of duct tape.
Note: The longer “unrated” version of the film adds slightly more plot details and is worth watching just for flavor.
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