Friday, December 16, 2016

Frankenstein’s Movie - DOOMSDAY

There are a lot of options out there to satisfy your thirst for post-apocalyptic action.  Try a little After the Bomb highway mayhem.  Maybe a good dystopian future is your thing.  Zombies are always a possibility.  Or, if you're Neil Marshall in 2008, you could just chop it all up and haphazardly sew the pieces into a lurching genre monstrosity called DOOMSDAY.

The Capsule:
Sometime in the early 21 century, Scotland is plagued by the Reaper Virus (note to scientists, don’t let heavy metal bands name your virus).  In order to contain the infection, the British government walls off the entire country.  When the Reaper Virus resurfaces in London 30-odd years later, the government sends an elite military team into the wasteland in search of Dr. Kane (Malcolm McDowell), who was working on a cure.  Led by badass Major Sinclair (Rhona Mitra), the team must battle hordes of cannibal punks and medieval knights (!) through decaying cities, open roadways, and tourist attractions of post-apocalyptic Scotland.  Even if they manage to find a cure and get out, they will have to deal with Canaris (David O'Hara), a nefarious politician who may not have the public’s best interest at heart.

DOOMSDAY is another case of the advantage of going in with super low expectations.  I heard this movie was terrible, even from a person who’s taste is remarkably close to mine (yes, those people do exist).  But I enjoyed director Neil Marshall’s other work, DOG SOLDIERS and especially THE DESCENT, so I figured as long as it wasn’t a bunch of people leaning in the corner pissing themselves for two hours, I would get something out of it.  I am happy to say it is not two hours of people pissing themselves.  It has some serious problems, but despite everything, I kind of dug it.  

This movie can make no claims at originality.  It’s filled with such blatant lifts that it can’t even be called homage with a serious face.  Obviously, I have no problem with rip-offs (see GRIZZLY, THE CAR,
HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP), even unofficial remakes like LOCKOUT.  The interesting thing with DOOMSDAY is that it doesn’t just rip-off one film, it rips-off a half dozen of them and blends them together into an oddball smoothie.  DOOMSDAY is clearly a take on ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and ROAD WARRIOR, but it also has elements of GHOST IN THE SHELL (the anime), ALIENS, 28 DAYS LATER, and most bizarrely, EXCALIBUR.  

It is amusing how brazen Marshall is about his cinematic larceny.   He’s kind of playfully smirking about it.  A Carpenter-esque electronic theme plays when Sinclair is being briefed about sneaking into and escaping from the Scottish surrogate for New York.  Two minor characters are named Carpenter and Miller.  The open roads are filled with MAD MAX cast offs, even though there is no real reason for it.  The scene where Sinclair’s team searches Kane’s seemingly abandoned lab evokes ALIENS so intentionally that they use some of the same dialogue.  Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs)—check, yellow rotating emergency lights—check, close quarter gun battles against silent, relentless foes—check.  The only thing missing was a power loader, and that is just because it suddenly changed gears back to ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.  

Major Sinclair is more GHOST IN THE SHELL’s Major Motoko than Snake Plissken (although she does occasionally wears an eye patch when she’s using her robot eye to look around corners).   Rhona Mitra—who, it turns out, is not Cate Beckinsale—plays her with an icy proficiency.  She never loses her cool even when she is surrounded by people who want to kill and/or eat her.  The closest she comes is her irritation at the guard who keeps whacking her with his spear while she’s trying to talk, up until the moment she kills him with one blow.  Do not interrupt this woman.

She is such a badass that her boss gives her 46 hours to complete her mission.  If they had given her the full two days, she would have just spent the last two hours waiting at the extraction site, smoking.  They had to make it challenging for her.

Sol (Craig Conway), the chairperson of the Glasgow Cannibal League (not sure if that is the official title), is a kick.  He lacks Issac Hayes’ A1 King of New York coolness, but he makes up for it in batshit showmanship. His court is like a post-apocalyptic Cirque du Soleil, with brawling punks spinning on ropes, fire jugglers, and bikers doing stunts in the center ring.  Sol comes strutting out on stage with his fur lined leather coat and receding Mohawk, The Fine Young Cannibals blaring from the speakers.  He gets the crowd amped up about the impending execution/barbecue of one of his captives by throwing paper plates to the crowd.  It’s more of a symbolic gesture; these guys are more into grabbing handfuls of cooked meat than having a proper picnic.  

In fact, I think the whole cannibal angle is mostly for show.  There don’t seem to be enough non-cannibal affiliated people around for these guys to sustain a full man eating lifestyle.  Plus, it is shown that there are huge herds of wild cows just outside of Glasgow, so they are clearly not desperate for food.  Cannibalism is merely a status thing in Scotland.  Every once in a while they make a big show out of eating a dude.  They are kind of like lapsed Catholics only going to Mass at Christmas.  

Malcolm McDowell’s role is not nearly as meaty (cannibal pun!).  Kane is the standard brilliant scientist driven mad by isolation and paranoia, holding power through ruthless dogma.  He makes grandiose but senseless statements like, “In the land of the infected, the immune man is king.”  Since all the hundreds of survivors in Scotland are immune, doesn’t that make everyone a king?  Clearly people just go along with him because Malcolm McDowell makes everything sound dramatic and important.

More interesting by far is the whacked out medieval world he’s built.  His people haven’t just adopted a simpler way of life, they’ve gone full Renaissance Fair.  There are serfs and blacksmiths and dudes with hay carts.  I think I saw Hodor in one crowd shot.  Sinclair even has a fight with the Black Knight!  I am sure none of the extras had any idea they were in a movie set in the future.  And as soon as they escape the castle, bam, straight into the ROAD WARRIOR.  You could get whiplash from this movie.  

You could also get whiplash from the fight scenes, which unquestionably are the worst thing about the movie.  They are cut so quick and shaky, I had no idea what was going on most of the time.  Sinclair’s fight with Sol’s girlfriend, Tattoo Face (Lee-Anne Liebenberg, officially named Viper, but I’m sure you will agree Tattoo Face is more appropriate), is an absolute nightmare.  It plays out like an epileptic seizure until the moment Tattoo Face gets decapitated.  At least Marshall gave us a moment to appreciate that gag.

The Black Knight fight at least provided a few wide shots that last more than a half second.  This was especially important since the opponents are so unevenly matched (he has a full suit of armor, she has a tank top).  It does establish that she has the advantage of speed and she targets the knight’s weak spots, making her victory at least somewhat plausible, but the whole thing could have been done so much better.  Given that Marshall (and his DP, Sam McCurdy) went on to do some absolutely eye popping fight sequences for Game of Thrones, this seems especially embarrassing.  The problem is more with the editing, my opinion.  This is a great looking movie and many of the shots are beautifully composed.  It's a pity you barely get the chance to see them.

Then there are the ROAD WARRIOR sequences, which have their own issues.  It is a nice juxtaposition to see a bunch of crazy, spiked up wasteland vehicles chasing after a brand new, shiny Bentley, but if you are competing with George Miller at his own game, you are going to lose.  The bad guy’s cars look more conspicuously designed than efficiently and realistically pieced together, and there just isn’t enough creative stunt work.  There are a few nice moments, like when the Bentley drives straight through Sol’s Murderbus.  It’s an impressive endorsement for Bentley, because the car makes it through without a scratch.  Forget muscle cars and tanks, this is the baby you want to be tooling around in after the fall of civilization.  

It’s also a cute touch that Sol has his dead girlfriend propped up beside him in his car, and she keeps getting more and more accidental abuse.  It turns out to be a very misguided gesture of affection.

Even though he stumbles on the action, Marshall sticks to his horror roots and makes it nice and bloody (at least in the unrated version I have).  The squibs are super juicy, heads explode, and the virus makeup is mega gross and boily.  The wide eyed doctor from Sinclair’s team actually stops running for a second just so he can wince when a biker punk has a messy wipeout.  Overall, it is very satisfying.  

Another bright spot in the movie is Sinclair’s boss, Bill Nelson, played by Bob Hoskins.  He’s mostly just in the 28 DAYS LATER style London under siege by the infected scenes, and he plays the same guy Bob Hoskins always plays, but any Bob Hoskins is refreshing.  I love that he represents the Cockney perspective in the austere, upper crust Parliamentary briefings.  He gets to use the phrases “tits-up” and “fuck-all” in the same speech.  It’s a nice counter to Alexander Siddig’s wimpy Prime Minister Hatcher and the overtly evil Canaris.  

In the end [Spoiler], Sinclair gives Nelson the recording she made of Canaris’ boasting about letting all the poor people in London die out before offering the cure to the virus.  The implication being that Nelson will release it to cause a huge public outcry against Canaris.  Because we all know that releasing a recording of damaging statements and showing a cavalier attitude toward abuse of power will end a politician's career instantly.  Unless Canaris explains it was just “locker room talk”.

Extra crazy points for the last scene.  Sinclair has decided to stay in the Scottish Wastelands, for some reason.  She goes back to Glasgow and presents the cannibal punks with Sol’s head.  After a second to reflect, they all cheer and accept Sinclair as their new leader.  I don’t quite see her motivation for doing that, but those guys do seem like a fun bunch and they really know how to throw a barbecue, so why not?  

In keeping with the theme, though, it is a totally rip off of the end of FURY ROAD.  Wait a minute…

C Chaka   

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