Mad Max, Gladiator, Escape From New York, The Warriors, Lord Of The Rings, Death Proof, Apocalypse Now, Prince Of Thieves, 28 Days Later… Name a post-apocalyptic, diseased, last-humans-alive, living-in-scraggly-clothes film and it’s probably referenced in Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers/The Descent follow-up. Some nods are intentional (the director telling TF last month he has “taken ingredients from the films I absolutely loved in the late ’70s, early ’80s…”), some unfortunate (a stunt-heavy car chase was beaten to the punch by Tarantino’s latest), but there are lots here. That Doomsday emerges bullish and very much its own beast after over 108 minutes of carnage is not just unexpected, it’s admirable.
In terms of scale this is unlike any British action film you’ve ever seen before – the set-up demanding a decimated Glasgow, war-torn to hell with the debris of battles past and present littering the streets.
Save for a couple of washed-out long shots betraying a small-by-Hollywood-standards £17m budget, Doomsday is often breathtaking in its bleakness. It tells of Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) and her crack team of army bods heading north across the border to seek a cure for the Reaper Virus that decimated Scotland 30 years earlier, leaving the tartan nation a Stone Age society behind a rebuilt Hadrian’s Wall. The pestilence has now spread to London and time is running out…
It’s manic stuff, culminating in a Colonel Kurtz-riffing Malcolm McDowell as Kane – the man with the cure for Reaper – gabbling existentialism to Sinclair. It should ooze gravitas, seep the blood of a civilisation gone to shit, but ultimately it fails to resonate.
First off, imagine if Captain Willard had come to his significant chat off the back of dialogue like, “Bloody hell Gerry, what’s got your knickers in a twist?” or “This town is gonna go tits-up in no time at all”, as snarled by Bob Hoskins’ grizzled copper. Doesn’t have the impact.
Secondly, all too often this is a chaotic ride with precious little meat. It’s a world where the past meets the future and they don’t get on. Heads are swiped and claret fountains from gaping wounds, but when yet another human dies it’s hard to care. On the plus side there’s the production design, storming set pieces and bloodbath action captured by a director full of invention and verve.
On the negative, there’s some shoddy acting, lack of character development and dialogue to make you wince. No matter. Marshall is strolling the foothills of a potentially incredible career and, genre steals aside, it’s superb that cinema this ambitious has come out of the UK. Rumours abound that a longer, more considered film lies on the cutting-room floor due to studio concerns over the running time. A Director’s Cut DVD should sort that one, then…