I have to preface this review by saying that I’ve never played a single minute’s worth of the videogame Doom. I’ve played a lot of other games of its type, but never that one. If you have played the game, or any other like it, you might get at least a little kick out of the movie. Doom takes it’s videogame roots seriously, almost too seriously, to the point that there’s not much advantage to seeing the movie over simply staying home, firing up your computer, and playing a couple hours worth of the game. But I think that’s what they were going for. The idea here isn’t to create a real movie experience, but rather to recreate the game, or rather the experience of playing the game, as a feature film.
Doing that means there’s really not much bother with plot. The script, assuming they actually used one, introduces characters as fast as possible, and then throws them into skulking around in the dark and shooting stuff up. Now the thing is, modern videogames have progressed a long way in the realm of story. Today’s first person shooter combines compelling characters and plot with cool as hell action. But Doom is a game-relic from an earlier era, an era where games had a few cut scenes, but players usually just skipped past them to get back into the action. In fact, there was nothing worse than a game which wouldn’t let you bypass cut scenes. If you found one, the inevitable attempt at plot would always result in a frustrated groan from the game’s players. That’s the feeling you get with Doom as a movie. All the exposition feels exactly like a boring cut scene, and I found myself looking for the Escape key to speed things up and get to the killing.
Once the grenades start flying Doom is occasionally fun. They’ve done a great job of capturing the feel of actually playing a first person shooter. Of all the videogame based movies we’ve had so far, I think that’s a first. Others, like Resident Evil capture the spirit of the game well enough, maybe even the story, but Doom actually recreates the feeling of playing and that’s a different thing entirely.
All the in-game cliché’s are there. There is of course the much advertised first person perspective sequence. It’s short, but that’s a blessing. Five minutes of it is amusingly silly, any more than that would have gotten annoying. But it’s the little touches that are the most entertaining. There’s a moment when a player… er excuse me… character freaks out and shoots his own reflection. There’s the creepy, dark, public restroom. And the characters are all player archetypes: the newbie, the guy who takes it way to seriously, the spazz, the Sarge. You get the picture. They’ve even got the in-game look. The dark lighting, the dim hallways, the creepy public restroom. There’s not a lot of variation in set design, but then in those early first person shooters there wasn’t. It’s all dark hallways and completely impractical catwalks; the set feels like it was designed as a game level and not as the working research facility it’s supposed to be. Whether or not that’s a good thing I think depends on your perspective. Normally you’d dismiss something like this as simply shitty filmmaking, but in the case of Doom they’ve obviously done it intentionally. The whole thing is a goofy, celebratory nod to old school, FPS computer gamers. They’ll get it, but I don’t think anyone else is going to.
The thing is, looked at as anything other than an homage to 90’s computer gaming, looked at as a movie, Doom is a pile of crap. There’s no story, well there is one, but they’d have been better off not trying. A bunch of marines go to Mars because something weird is happening. To solve the problem they have to kill everyone and everything. That pretty much covers it. It tries to be gory and scary, but it’s more dorky and dumb than anything. The action is at times decent and at other times stupid. This is after all, the type of movie where the hero drops his weapon to fight the villain hand to hand, instead of shooting him in the head.
The Rock gives a nice performance; he looks like he’s having a good time with his character. It’s interesting the role he’s taken. The Rock actually doesn’t play the lead. He was offered the lead, but chose the role of Sarge instead because he liked it better. I have to say, he made a damned good decision. He has some great moments, my favorite is his discovery of a power weapon; the look on his face is nearly orgasmic. It still kills me that The Rock isn’t in something better. The guy is such a talent, he deserves to have a fantastic film somewhere in his credits. Karl Urban plays the lead, a solider named Reaper who ends up saving everyone’s ass. He’s looking a little pimply these days, but has a nice physical presence which works well enough in a movie without much that isn’t physical.
If you’re interested in seeing it, what you need to keep in mind about Doom is that it’s not a real movie. It’s a videogame, but one where you have to sit and watch instead of participating. The experience of seeing it is a lot like sitting next to your buddy, looking over his shoulder while he plays an old first person shooter on his computer. If you’ve ever done that, then you know as well as anyone that watching isn’t nearly as fun as playing.