Doom: Annihilation - 2019
Updated: Apr 26, 2020
It’s not every day that your favourite childhood book gets the chance to be adapted for the screen a second time...especially when that book was the Doom instruction manual. I don’t know how many people other than myself were asking for this, but rejoice, for our time has come!
That’s right, we’ve finally gotten to the point of stagnant creativity where we are getting remakes of adaptations of a medium that has only existed for forty years. Last year we got Tomb Raider, and this year we get Doom: Annihilation. Where Tomb Raider went with the, “try to adapt the more recent games” approach, Doom decides to go with the, “let's adapt everything from a game that was popular thirty years ago” approach. Coloured keys, secret levels, boss fights: it’s all there in its unashamed glory.
Let’s get one thing out of the way early: the 1993 video game classic was based on Phobos. Not Mars. I don’t know why everything after the third game decided Mars was cooler, but Doom is Phobos, Deimos and Hell, in that order. Now, although Doom: Annihilation decides to forgo Deimos to streamline the story that's originally spread out on two pages of an instruction manual and is usually skipped over for the drawings of the monsters, we do finally have a story about teleportation experiments on Phobos. Does this mean that the story is good in any way shape or form? No. Not really. Not really at all. But at least they cater specifically to my needs, and for that, I thank the writer/director Tony Giglio, who you might remember from Soccer Dog: The Movie.
The film also tries to cram in some apparently emotional side story about our lead character who let a terrorist go, and the scientist character that once went on a date with her, but none of that really matters, except specifically when the film stops to tell you about it.
The best of zombie cinema usually reflects the anxieties that society has at the time and place of its origin. Dawn of the Dead shows our rampant consumerism; Day of the Dead shows how we treat “the other”; World War Z shows that we all need a refreshing Pepsi sometimes. Even modern video games like The Last of Us are rich in themes. I don’t know if you remember video games in the 90s, but you shoot zombie because zombie bad and kill demon because demon bad. Doom: Annihilation gets that. I think at one point it is trying to say something, when it's going on about how Dark's entire team don’t trust her, and in the end, they are following her because zombie bad. But it really doesn’t try hard enough. I think at one point it may be saying something about the environment and how humans need a new planet, but it's one scene where the movie stops to say something and then boom: more zombies.
It's funny to point out how much the last Doom adaptation tried to say. Sure, it is based on Mars, (my least favourite planet of all time), but it explores the theme of nature versus nurture and what it means to be “evil”. It tries to say something while the Rock smoulders and Karl Urban grimaces. If this movie tried to say something, it is very much an afterthought.
When you can find one place to see this movie, and that place is Amazon Prime, what do you think the technical achievement will be? Spoiler alert: they misspell the lead actress’ name in the opening credits.
It’s low budget, and it shows. Hard. The cinematography means the movie is at least more visible than the last attempt at a Doom movie, but it’s half as interesting to look at. The most creative the lighting gets seems to be a clear attempt to distinguish one location from another location when using the same set. Do you like hallways? Because you’re gonna get some hallways! The BFG 9000 is a beautiful silver-painted oversized Nerf Gun. The chaingun looks exactly like every other machine gun - the chainsaw is a box! I kid you not! A box with a chainsaw end coming out of it! Whoever created the blue zombie design deserves a medal for making zombies strange yet boring. The Imps throw fireballs, so that’s a plus, but their physical design is like a floppy rubber version of the 2016 design.
The acting is honestly baffling; it’s either over the top or completely underplayed. There’s ADR happening right in your face (I can’t tell if the Russian actress is playing an American or a Russian in disguise as an American).
But then there’s the climax. Our lead character, Joan Dark (wrong video game, guys), finally travels to what may or may not be Hell and faces off with what I’m going to assume is either a Hellknight, Baron of Hell or Archvile (if anyone reads the script, let me know). All of this looks genuinely good. As much as I love a physical suit, the Imps look more consistent in CGI, in a CGI environment. It looks like all of the CGI budget went into this scene, rather than in moments where they avoided a jump cut by awkwardly cross-fading the same shot into itself.
I’ve made a lot of noise like I’ve had fun with this movie, but it's honestly missing a lot. All of the video game references are really awkward and tacked on, which kind of makes them better? I want more moments like, “I’m your Ultra Nightmare!” from other video game movies. Can you imagine how good it would be if they mentioned a Jill Sandwich multiple times in any of the Resident Evil films? There’s a great moment where they find the corpse of a marine called William Blazkowicz. Any nerd will know that this is the lead of id Software’s other main game, Wolfenstein, but any super nerd will know that this is ALSO the name of his grandson and lead of id Software’s other other main game, Commander Keen, but any super DUPER nerd will know that this is ALSO ALSO the name of HIS ancestor and lead of id Software’s main game, Doom. Now, I don’t know how far they were thinking into this, but I don’t think they were intending to kill the lead character of the video game they were adapting. That’s just what you get when you really did love the story of Doom growing up.
It's well and truly a video game movie though. That second paragraph was not a joke: coloured keys are a major plot point in the end. But when this is the second adaptation that seems REALLY hesitant in confirming that it’s about literal Demons from Hell, then you need to re-evaluate what parts of the game you’re staying true to.
It’s not scary, the action is bland but it's awkward as Hell. So if you were really into George Michael Bluth falling in love with his cousin in Arrested Development, but you also still own a copy of the Doom instruction manual that you had when you were a kid, then you might like this movie enough to not hate yourself for watching it.