Karl Urban - John “Reaper” Grimm
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson - Asher “Sarge” Mahonin
Rosamund Pike - Dr. Samantha Grimm
Richard Brake - Dean Portman
Deobia Oparei - Roark “Destroyer” Gannon
Ben Daniels - Eric “Goat” Fantom
Raz Adoti - Gregory “Duke” Schofield
Al Weaver - Mark “The Kid” Dantalian
Dexter Fletcher - Marcus “Pinky” Pinzerowski
Genre - Horror/Action/Science Fiction/Video Games
Running Time - 113 Minutes [Unrated Director’s Cut]
As a lot of movie goers know, the process of adapting a video game property into a feature film [and vice-versa] hasn’t had the greatest percentage of succeeding. Ever since 1993’s SUPER MARIO BROS., Hollywood has struggled to capture what made the video games so popular into a live-action film format. While each adaptation may have a highlight or two within their respective films, only a few adaptations can be considered good. 1995’s MORTAL KOMBAT is a fun and cheesy flick that, at least, managed to adapt its source material as much as possible for the time. 2001’s TOMB RAIDER is a pretty solid action flick and turned Angelina Jolie into a huge star. The RESIDENT EVIL series, as divisive as they are, proved that audiences will latch on to a property if there’s enough fun things going on within it. 2006’s SILENT HILL is actually a pretty solid and atmospheric horror film that still works. And 2019’s POKEMON: DETECTIVE PIKACHU proved that not straying away from the source could reap some huge rewards commercially.
Unfortunately, the major of video game adaptations are either really bad, or just extremely disappointing due to its unfulfilled potential. I feel 2005’s DOOM fits under this criteria - an adaptation of one of video game’s most important and influential first person shooters that didn’t appeal to many despite casting Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in a lead role. It’s also surprising the film didn’t do better considering one of the franchise’s most popular entries, Doom 3, was released a year prior to great success. But with a $70 million dollar budget, the film only made about $56 million at the box office - not only making DOOM a box office bomb, but continuing a trend at the time for one Dwayne Johnson, who was struggling with maintaining his supposed star power.
I hadn’t watched DOOM in about 13 years, not remembering it fondly and considering one of Dwayne Johnson’s biggest flops in his movie career. Even Johnson himself dislikes this film, feeling it never lived up to its potential. But my interest in rewatching DOOM comes at a time where the video game franchise has gained a lot of strength and good will in the last few years, especially with Doom Eternal being considered one of 2020’s Most Anticipated Games. Netflix is even streaming a quasi-sequel to this film, DOOM: ANNIHILATION, that isn’t considered to be any good but is at least praised for capturing the essence of the source material better than this film did. Considering all the negativity surrounding it, is DOOM really that bad? Were we expecting too much out of this adaptation fifteen years ago? Or does it deserve to be destroyed by a BFG for good?
A team of space marines known as the Rapid Response Tactical Squad, led by Sarge (Dwayne Johnson), is sent to a science facility on Mars after somebody reports a security breach. There, they learn that the alert came after a test subject, a mass murderer purposefully injected with alien DNA, broke free and began killing people. Dr. Grimm (Rosamund Pike), who is related to team member Reaper (Karl Urban), informs them all that the chromosome can mutate humans into monsters - and is highly infectious.
Rewatching DOOM again after so many years, I didn’t hate it as much as I had previously. In fact, I can tell there’s a good film in DOOM somewhere if it had been written and executed better in its final form. And while the film does have some positive things going for it in hindsight, DOOM still remains a heavily flawed film and a video game adaptation that could have and should have been better on so many levels.
Let’s get the positives out of the way first. The highlight of DOOM, which many who have seen the film will probably agree with, is during the final act where we see the recognizable first-person Doom point of view as Reaper shoots and dodges creatures trying to kill him. Director Andrzej Bartkowiak shoots the scene pretty close to the style of the video game, giving us five-to-seven minutes of hope that someone on the production team actually cared about using the source material to cater to fans of the video games and put a smile on their faces. The Unrated Director’s Cut is the way to go when it comes to this scene, as this edition adds more of the first-person-shooter aspect and makes us wish more of this aspect had been implemented throughout the rest of the film during the action scenes. It stands out against the rest of the standard and generic visual presentation, still holding up pretty well and proving that video game adaptations could be fun if you just gave the fans what they want.
Speaking of the visual presentation, I also liked the Universal opening logo using Mars instead of Earth, which is a nice touch. I wish more films with certain themes would do that more. And the closing credits with the first-person-shooting isn’t as good as the one within the actual story, but it’s still cool that the producers knew enough to use it. It’s not too hard to cater to the fan base while making the material more Hollywood, as long as it’s not forced or overdone.
I thought that while the creatures didn’t look as cool as their video game counterparts, at least there seemed to be a focus on making them look good. The monsters seemed more practical than CGI for the most part - maybe besides the Pinky monster - and I liked their designs. They looked threatening and stood out enough to make an impression. I also didn’t mind the futuristic set designs and the gory moments that thankfully pushed DOOM into an R rating. Cool monster bites on necks, vicious wounds, and multiple severed body parts compensated for other things that lacked in this film.
I also didn’t mind much of the acting in DOOM. A lot of the actors don’t get a whole lot of dialogue, especially good dialogue. But the main actors try to make good with the material given, even if they’ve done better work on other projects before and since. Karl Urban and Rosamund Pike struggled with their accents at times, but I liked their performances as both Reaper and Dr. Grimm. Urban is great at brooding and always looks believable when performing action scenes, so I thought he fit well here. Pike is mainly there to be the token female and say science things that drive the plot, but she does it like a champ. I found it funny, though, that Urban and Pike shared a more romantic chemistry than a sibling one, which made watching DOOM pretty uncomfortable at times. There was an interesting vibe there. I also liked Raz Adoti as the flirtatious and loyal Duke, sharing some genuinely cute and funny moments with Pike. It presented a nice change of pace from the rest of the film. And I enjoyed Richard Brake as Portman, playing up his trademark unhinged performance that he’s perfected ever since this movie, especially in his appearances in recent Rob Zombie movies. A lot of the actors weren’t allowed to display any sort of personality since they were directed to play gruff soldiers. But Brake seems to enjoy hamming it up as a lunatic and it more than worked for me.
Now we get to the things that aren’t so good about DOOM. And it pains me to put him here since he was the draw at the time. But Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson just seems off in this film and I don’t fully blame him for that either. I’m not saying his performance is terrible because it isn’t at all. He does a commendable job playing Sarge and shouting orders like you’d expect a drill sergeant would. But this man is one of the most charismatic movie stars in the world and for whatever reason, he’s not allowed to display any sort of fun or swagger in this acting. It’s not sure if Andrzej Bartkowiak directed him to play the role straight, or if Johnson’s agent and/or manager at the time convinced him to be less “Rock” and more “Dwayne” - wanting him to a more serious actor by not playing up to the persona that made him a star to begin with. Johnson just seems checked out, even when the twist happens. Johnson, himself, has stated a few times that DOOM is his least favorite project for various reasons. Judging by his lacking, yet competent performance, I can see why.
And then we get to what really brings DOOM down - the script itself. There are a lot of issues with the story here. For one, this is a pretty loose adaptation of the source material. Instead of fighting demons invading space from Hell, DOOM is nothing more than an ALIENS ripoff mixed with what studios felt worked in the RESIDENT EVIL film series at the time. Doing any film resembling 1986’s ALIENS is automatically going to make that movie look inferior, especially when the most you know about the characters are their nicknames. And it sucks that the demons from Hell were replaced by infected zombie-like people from a Mars lab. At least I think it was Mars, since we barely see anything outside of the lab. The switch was probably due to budgetary reasons, but it just turns DOOM into another zombie film influenced by the much more popular RESIDENT EVIL films. The characters saying scientific stuff, as if the actors playing them knew what the hell they were talking about, is unintentionally hilarious at times though. I hear the new DOOM film caters more to the demons from Hell deal than this one does. It’s kind of disappointing.
And I like I wrote earlier, the characters don’t have much depth really besides nicknames that pretty much tell us a certain personality trait or their job within the squad. Sarge just shouts at his troops and wants to have things his way by any means necessary. Reaper is haunted by his parents’ death and is the group’s best sharpshooter. The Kid is the Rookie. Portman is the token crazy member. Duke is the flirt. Goat is the religious one. And Dr. Grimm probably has the most character as she’s the smart scientist with a tragic past with connections to several members of the squad. Even when a certain character turns to the dark side, there’s no real reason for it to happen besides the film needed a human antagonist besides the zombies. Unlike the films DOOM is trying to emulate, the characters don’t share a ton of chemistry with each other because they’re not really allowed to. Regardless of how you feel about those RESIDENT EVIL films, at least they have the characters form some sort of relationship with each other to build character and enough depth for audiences to care enough to sit through six films. You don’t really care about what happens to these people because you’re really not supposed to. It’s not like the video games have deep protagonists anyway, since you’re mainly just a shooter who travels through corridors and bases to shoot demons until you beat the game. But DOOM could have at least tried harder, since you feel disconnected as if you’re watching someone play the game rather connecting to it if you were playing it yourself.
And while some of the direction is decent, especially in the film’s final act, there is a lot to be desired visually for majority of the film. For one, why is DOOM so freakin’ dark? The color scheme within the corridors of the Ark are nice, with blues and reds. But these scenes are barely lit, making it hard to see the monsters or whatever action is going on when the characters are walking inside of this location, which is more often than not. It’s not like the creatures look terrible, because they don’t. And maybe at the start, using darkness could build some tension and anticipation for what we’ll eventually see. But I shouldn’t have to squint during a film to figure out what I’m seeing. It was frustrating and made me wonder how anyone believed this was a good idea. Gritty is a mood, not a lighting scheme.
And when there wasn’t any action happening, the vibe of the film just fell flat. There wasn’t a whole lot of energy when the characters would interact with each other via dialogue. A lot of action films usually have decent pacing because even the non-action moments buzz and build to the next action sequence. You don’t really get that with DOOM. At least the dialogue scenes lead to other scenes, unlike a lot of video game adaptations, but I wish they grabbed you more.
And the soundtrack is pretty much nondescript. You get a remix of a Nine Inch Nails song and a generic nu-metal type score. I barely remember it as I type this, to be honest with you. Solid…
THE FINAL HOWL
DOOM is not the worst video game adaptation to have ever been presented in a live-action film format, but it’s not a good adaptation either. The film is lit too dark, the characters have no depth at all, and it’s barely based on the games themselves besides a few names, the concept, and some of the weapons. And Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, one of the most charismatic personalities in any media, acts as if he doesn’t want to be in the film and gives one of his flattest performances against Karl Urban and Rosamund Pike, who clearly outshine him here. But the film does look polished, has a great video game moment with that awesome first-person shooter sequence near the end, displays cool creature designs inspired by the games and above average acting from most of the cast [especially Urban, Pike and Richard Brake]. And the silly dialogue has its unintentional moments of entertainment that elevate a film that could have and should have been better. A lousy video game adaptation, but an average ALIENS meets RESIDENT EVIL rip-off.