Mankind has an expiration date
It’s not especially difficult to spot the influences on Neil Marshall’s 2008 post-apocalyptic action extravaganza, Doomsday, but that’s kind of the point. Marshall’s girl-on-a-mission B-movie blow out is an exercise in deliberate pastiche, blending elements of Escape From New York (1981), The Warriors (1979), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Mad Max 2 (1981), Excalibur (1981), and more into an enjoyably daft and brutal dystopian disasterpiece.
The film also sees Marshall perpetuating his grudge against/ fascination with Scotland. After infesting it with werewolves in 2002’s Dog Soldiers and before invading it with Roman legionaries in 2010’s Centurion, Doomsday simply walls off the whole troublesome country in an effort to quarantine the horrific ‘reaper virus’ that is rampaging through the population. 30 years later, with the rest of Britain now a 2000 A.D.-ish police state, the virus erupts in London, and so one-eyed supercop Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) is dispatched north of the containing wall in search of a cure, as satellite images of surviving Scottish enclaves indicate that the plague may not be 100% fatal.
Piling into a couple of high tech armored cars (let’s add 1977 cult misfire Damnation Alley to the homage list while we’re at it) Eden and her team, which includes Adrian Lester, Mary Queen of Scots (2018), and Marshall regular Sean Pertwee, Fox’s Gotham (2014-19), are soon contending not only with your usual colorful crew of ravening cannibals, but also Kane (Malcolm McDowell, because of course Malcolm McDowell), a scientist who has set himself up as a cod-medieval warlord, complete with castle, knights and the odd trial by combat.
Brutal, muscular, and completely aware of its own preposterousness, Doomsday succeeds because it never stops to dwell on its own considerable fallibility. Its tongue is always firmly in its cheek, even when its characters are stoically sacrificing themselves for the sake of the mission or, in one memorable sequence, being cooked alive to the strains of ‘Good Thing’ by Fine Young Cannibals (alas, poor Pertwee, we hardly knew ye).
Yet it never winks at the audience, although the soundtrack comes close at times — other needle drops that comment directly on the action include tracks by Adam and the Ants and Siouxsie and the Banshees, which should make aging Goths (like, er, me) smile, plus there’s a pretty spot on use of ‘Two Tribes’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
But it’s the action we’re really here for, and Doomsday delivers in spades. Mitra’s Sinclair is a suitably dour, no-nonsense protagonist (comparisons to Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken are apt), equally adroit at machine-gunning advancing hordes, going hand-to-hand with a monstrous gladiator, or driving like a maniac in the film’s pell-mell Miller Lite climax. Marshal is a dab hand at this sort of thing, and clearly enjoys mounting all the mayhem he can manage — there’s a reason he regularly gets tapped to direct the big battle episodes of HBO’s Game of Thrones.
Suspension of disbelief is helped by a superb supporting cast who are never less than fully committed; absolute treasure Bob Hoskins, The Long Good Friday (1980), crops up as top cop Bill Nelson, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s Alexander Siddig pulls political duty as Britain’s beleaguered Prime Minister, while David O’Hara, Braveheart (1995), is suitably sinister as shady government agent Michael Canaris, who uses the crisis to engineer a quiet little coup.
Among the more overtly villainous, Craig Conway, The Descent (2005), earns MVP as the manic Sol, leader of the cannibals, and while stuntwoman Lee-Anne Liebenberg doesn’t get to say much as his 2IC, Viper, she certainly leaves an impression — but full facial tattoos will do that.
If the film has one major issue it’s that, conceptually speaking, it’s rather unambitious. Its concept exists only to facilitate a string of action beats and striking images, with little thought given to theme. Still, Marshall colors in his circle so completely that it’s hard to fault him for not daring to scribble outside the lines. Doomsday is an absolute blast — it might not be your favorite film, but it’ll probably remind you of your favorite film if that makes sense.
4 / 5 – Recommended
Reviewed by Travis Johnson