The Rules of the Game
As far as videogame plots go, Doom isn't up to snuff with the sweeping storylines of the Castlevania or Final Fantasy series, but it does have a distinct advantage over, say, Tetris. For those who came in late, Doom is a legendary computer game that first burst out in the early '90s, a first-person shooter in which the main objective mostly involved shooting whateverr was moving. 'Twas a simple premise, not to mention one that had been done before (there'll always be a special place in my heart for good ol' Wolfenstein), but it quickly struck a chord with gamers and became one of the most popular titles of all time.
However, a "run around and shoot stuff" philosophy hasn't stopped Hollywood from making a buck by turning fun video games into mediocre movies. Going into Doom, I knew I couldn't view it in my usual analytical frame of mind, but rather more from the point of view of my inner child, who relished being in third grade and slaying pixellated demons on my computer screen. Still, Doom proved to be a disappointment, not in how it brought the game to life but more in what was done with the elements. Blood, guts, and bullets are things that Doom possesses; the fact that the film seems almost afraid to show them is what's a bummer.
In the year 2046, Earth scientists working at a research facility on Mars have come upon a shocking discovery -- a discovery that proceeds to wreak havoc and results in numerous scientists becoming lunch for some unknown forces lurking in the dark. To quell the impending threat to the rest of the facility, members of the Rapid Response Tactical Squad are called in, the character development going only as far as their guns identify them by name. Sarge (The Rock), Reaper (Karl Urban), and the other space marines head off to the angry red planet to investigate, teaming up with Reaper's scientist sister Samantha (Rosamund Pike) to get to the bottom of what's going on. What they learn is that someone's been playing God on Mars, performing genetic experiments that have resulted in the outbreak of a virus that can mutate those infected into hideous, bloodthirsty monsters bent on destroying anything in their path. With the risk of these creatures finding a way to escape to Earth, the marines of the RRTS have only one option: seek out the monsters with all guns a-blazin'.
Criticizing movies like Doom for being vehicles filled with mindless violence is like making fun of the Three Stooges for being goofy; they each provide exactly what their respective audiences are looking for, so faulting them for it is pretty futile. You can, however, chide them in how their time is spent, in which case Doom seems a vulnerable victim. It's not too difficult to make an entertaining picture out of blasting away monsters in outer space, but somehow, the makers of Doom have managed to drain a lot of the fun out of seeing stuff get "blown up real good."
All the potential is there, but for some reason, no one seems interested in seizing it. When the film unleashes some of the action, it can be really fun, but the problem is that these bursts are so short-lived. One marine's fight against a creature in an electrified prison cell is exhilirating, and the much-hyped point-of-view shot of Reaper blasting his way through monster-infested hallways (a throwback to the look of the game) held my attention, but these moments came in too small doses.
Doom almost seems like it's pussyfooting around, fearful of tapping into its dark side and giving viewers a truly frightening experience. For a film that should've been bursting at the seams with action while at the same time retaining a dark, claustrophobic atmosphere, Doom drags on for a long time and plays it safer than most other R-rated actioners. Perhaps another director would've been better suited for the job; Andrzej Bartkowiak (Romeo Must Die) does an okay job of playing up the flick's action, but when it comes to embracing the story's sci-fi side, he comes across as James Cameron lite, with Doom turning out to be an Aliens imitator -- with the same appearance but none of the flavor.
I'd go into the development of and conflict between the characters, but aside from The Rock's power-hungry Sarge, Karl Urban's position as pseudo-lead, and Rosamund Pike as someone who deserves mention just for living longer than most others, everyone else falls under the category of Monster Food. I never expected any deep characterizations with Doom, and in that respect, I can't say the film ever disappointed me. But in terms of delivering a consistent, explosive, hard-hitting, and scary interpretation of the game, Doom comes up short.
MY RATING: ** (out of ****)
(Released by Universal and rated "R" for strong violence/gore and language.)