The first Doom flick has the distinction of being the first film to ever carry the Shitty Movie Sundays moniker here at Missile Test. That movie was cheap as all get out, despite starring Dwayne Johnson during his first run at movie stardom, and an up-and-comer named Karl Urban. 2019’s Doom: Annihilation establishes a tradition of cheapness for the franchise. Despite that, this is a far more entertaining film than any direct-to-video sci-fi/action flick has any business being.
The first Doom film paid homage to its video game source material here and there, but it was never a faithful adaptation. That’s understandable, as that source material is kind of thin.
Doom, for those who don’t remember, is an early first-person shooter that became a giant in the mid-1990s, and is a gaming franchise that continues to this day. The first game, and its sequel, consists of you, the player, running around the moons of Mars killing possessed soldiers and demons. In between levels there is a paragraph or so of hard to read body copy dropping narrative threads into the players’ experience, but the very thin story can be ignored with zero effect on gameplay. The whole point of the game is to shoot bad guys. This leaves a lot of latitude plot-wise for a film adaptation.
The first Doom film used that latitude to give audiences a convoluted mess. Doom: Annihilation, on the other hand, actually shows some narrative restraint. The whole thing is almost as simple as the game. Doom: Annihilation also adapts core gameplay elements into the movie, which is harder than it sounds.
Interspersed with normal shots of the cast doing action movie things, writer/director Tony Giglio would drop in views from protagonists’ heads-up displays, and these are stylistically identical to what one sees in the game. The sets, mostly harsh, bleakly futuristic corridors, evoke the atmosphere of the old games, as well.
Divided into distinct acts, the film features a squad of space Marines who have been dispatched to provide protection at a research base on Mars’s moon Phobos. There, a scientist by the name of Dr. Malcolm Betruger (Dominic Mafham) and his team are working on teleportation, hoping to send people from Earth to Mars in seconds, rather than months. They have the science almost nailed, but the portal they manage to open allows a bunch of beasties to invade the moon from some other dimension. The Marines happen to arrive on the scene just after all this bad stuff goes down.
The Marines are led by Captain Hector Savage (James Weber Brown), who bears an uncanny resemblance to the player character in the games. But, he’s not the main character. That honor goes to Lieutenant Joan Dark (Amy Manson). She’s this flick’s Ellen Ripley.
Remember that narrative latitude I mentioned above? When this film isn’t a faithful adaptation of the old games, Giglio chose to make it a ripoff of Aliens. And that is totally fine. A lot of b-movies have drunk from that well, including the first Doom film, and most of them have been watchable. This film is more watchable than most.
Savage, Dark, and company spend the first act of the film fighting off bad guys in the moon base. Then in the next act they fight baddies aboard a docked spaceship as they try and flee the moon. That failing, it’s back into the base for more action, denouement, and a setup for a sequel.
Admittedly, this film is about as thin on story as the games, but that is one of the things that works for it. It looked like Giglio and company didn’t have much of a budget to work with, so simplicity won out on everything they did. Too many movies like this feature characters doing a lot of walking and talking but not enough shooting. No worries with Doom: Annihilation. It’s got gunfights galore, with barely a drop of realism. That’s the proper way to do b-movie action.
The ensemble cast of Marines fights and dies until Dark establishes her last girl bona fides, to no viewer’s surprise, and it’s a stupid fun journey.
This is a flick that has all the trappings of a bad shitty movie. The CGI is cartoonish, but one can tell that some effort was put into it. Those sets that are so much like the game are bargain basement, but, again, they don’t look thrown together out of old plywood. The cast has zero performers that will be familiar to the casual movie watcher, yet the principals all performed well, with Mafham leading the pack.
Doom: Annihilation is a good shitty movie watch. I stand by that opinion, and I’m just as surprised as any of my loyal readers at that assessment. It doesn’t quite make the top 50 of the Watchability Index, but it was entertaining enough to displace Vampires from the #64 spot. Check it out.