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Doom: Annihilation Is The Most Fun Video Game Movie You Probably Didn't See

Posted By themoviesleuth 1012 days ago on Entertainment - image courtesy Universal PicturesWe live in an era when nostalgia is all the rage, seemingly every franchise is getting a high-profile movie reboot, and after about a decade of lying dormant, Doom is once again alive and well as a current fan-favorite series. It seems like the obvious choice for a big-budget, big-screen rebooted Doom movie to come out right about now, to go with the Mortal Kombatreboot coming to theaters and HBO Max this April, and the Resident Evil reboot that is right around the corner. But for some reason, that's not what Universal Studios was interested in doing – instead, a bit over a year ago, at what would seem like the height of the revived video game franchise's resurgence, they chose to quietly slip a low-budget, direct-to-VOD Doom reboot out into the world with hardly any fanfare or marketing. I remember the initial press release of a bunch of on-set photos from the film, and I remember thinking “oh, this looks like it could be really cool,” and assuming that surely it was destined for a well-publicized theatrical release. But after that, I completely missed the news that this film even came out, and was caught totally by surprise when I stumbled across a used blu-ray in a store a few weeks ago. Surely, I figured, this cannot be a good sign. Even at their best, video game movies aren't exactly known as a paragon of quality – 1995's Mortal Kombat is probably the best one, or maybe Silent Hillor one of the better Resident Evils – and the idea of straight-to-video video game movies conjures up dread-filled thoughts of Uwe Boll. The 2005 big-screen Doommovie starring Dwayne The Rock Johnson was, despite its big budget and impressive visuals, not very good, so my hopes were not high for a straight-to-VOD follow-up that had somehow flown completely under my radar despite me being squarely in its target demographic. So naturally I bought it, since I'm a glutton for bad-horror-movie punishment, and a big fan of the original '90s Doom games.I'm so happy to have been very wrong. Doom: Annihilation is absolutely a low-budget B-movie; one with good production values for a straight-to-VOD flick, but with the production values of a straight-to-VOD flick all the same. It is also a very fun, very effective sci-fi horror movie which successfully captures the appeal of the original Doom games, and which understands what made them so good. This very distinctly feels like a movie made by a big fan of the franchise, who really wants to get right what the 2005 Doom film got wrong. And to that end, the film is a success: Doom: Annihilation is absolutely a better movie than 2005's Doom, and it does a much better job of adapting the game. What it lacks in budget and polish it makes up for in enthusiasm for the source material, and in gritty and fast-paced action-horror thrills. It may be rough around the edges, but it deserves much better than the poorly-marketed straight-to-video oblivion that it got.image courtesy Universal PicturesThe plot is more or less identical to the original 1993 Doom game: a space marine being punished for insubordination is sent (along with the rest of their unit) to be a glorified security guard at a mysterious UAC science facility on the Martian moon of Phobos. But shortly after they arrive, the UAC's experiments with interdimensional gateways go horribly wrong, opening up a literal portal to Hell on Phobos, and filling the base with demons that turn the people they kill into zombies, leaving it to our hero and a few other marines and scientists to fight their way up the levels of the base and stop the evil. It is an extremely faithful adaptation of the game's loose plot, with one notable change: the space marine hero has been gender-flipped from the cartoonishly macho, square-jawed “Doomguy” to a woman, played by Amy Manson (Once Upon a Time, Being Human, HBO's upcoming The Nevers). The gender-flip has no real impact on the plot, and should be a total non-issue, but of course the reaction among thin-skinned, sexist fanboys on the internet was to absolutely melt downabout it when the film came out; many if not most of the film's most negative reviews contain some variation on “those SJWs ruined Doomwith their feminist agenda.” Yes, that nefarious feminist agenda of... casting women in movies, and showing that women exist. The misogynistic backlash that the film got is as unsurprising as it is disappointing, and is also a major argument for taking the movie's low audience rating with a big grain of salt, and just seeing it for yourself. Doomwoman-instead-of-Doomguy aside, this is an extremely faithful film version of the game.image courtesy Universal PicturesIt is even extremely faithful to the video game structure, in a way that frankly sounds like a really bad idea on paper, but somehow works, thanks to how much writer-director Tony Giglio (writer of the Death Race sequels, and second-unit director on Resident Evil: Afterlife) genuinely feels like a nerd for the games, and plays it all with a straight face and just enough conviction. The trajectory of the plot has the space marines literally fighting their way up the ascending levels of the base, collecting colored key cards along the way. The visors of their helmets have distinctly video-game-y pop-up displays showing the area map, and highlighting items that would be useful to collect, including Doom staples like the chainsaw and the BFG (which, yes, does indeed stand for what it's supposed to stand for this time). The way that it literalizes video game concepts within the plot comes very close to feeling like too much, and lapsing into self-parody, but Giglio stays just on the right side of that line, and ensures that it all works reasonably well, and feels like an affectionate homage to the games rather than a stupidly literal translation thereof. It doesn't have an extended first-person action sequence like the 2005 film, but it shows the soldiers' POVs from within their visors enough to pay tribute to the story's shooter roots.The biggest strength of Doom: Annihilation is that it gets right a couple major things that the 2005 Doom got wrong. The Rock version of Doom is not without its positive qualities – the aforementioned first-person action sequence is great, and the film's expensive production design and creature effects put the budget on full display – but the film is undone in the second half by a couple baffling decisions: the choice to entirely throw the franchise mythology out the window and give us a version of Doom that has no portal to Hell and no demons, and the choice to end the film not with a boss-monster creature extravaganza, but with a glorified wresting match between human hero and human villain, I guess just for the sake of making The Rock wrestle. That first film felt pretty anticlimactic because of how it totally jettisoned the occult-horror elements which are the entire crux of the video games. With Doom: Annihilation, we finally get the Doom movie that we wanted the first time around, with proper demons, occult mythology, and some pretty awesome visions of hell. It feels like Giglio setting out to correct the first film's mistakes, and deliver on its unfulfilled promise.image courtesy Universal PicturesWhile Doom: Annihilation is unmistakably a B-movie, it makes the best of what it has, and looks quite impressive, all things considered. For a modestly budgeted film, the sets look great, with the spaceship and the main portions of the Phobos base being genuinely impressive, and quite well-designed. It has the look and feel of a visually-strong genre TV show with good production design – think Firefly or Doctor Who –maybe not enough to hold its own in a multiplex, but very good for the small screen. The same goes for the good-but-not-amazing camerawork. The creature effects are mostly quite good: there is definitely some dodgy CGI here and there, like the fireballs that the imps shoot, but the practical creature suits look pretty great, and their design is very strong. I'm not sure how I feel about the bright color of the zombies, but the ghouls themselves are quite well-executed, channeling the fast-zombie style of 28 Days Later's infected in a way that really works for the movie's suspense and action scenes. And crucially, the film's hellish climax looks really good, and very well-designed indeed. It handles both its action and its horror elements quite well, which is exactly the balance that Doomneeds.The cast for the most part is good, but not great. Amy Manson does a solid enough job as the lead, and her co-stars are likewise pretty good, but no one is really a stand-out; it's a perfectly alright B-movie cast, which may not be the highest praise, but it's also exactly what I'd say about the 2005 film, once you get past its three top-billed leads. They don't have a ton of help from Giglio's script either, truth be told. The film's story is pretty good, and an effective adaptation of the game, but the dialogue itself isn't amazing, and is probably the film's weakest link. Not bad, but just... ok. A good indication of the caliber of writing we're talking about here is the name of the film's main character: Lt. Joan Dark. Yes, as in a clumsy Joan of Arc reference combined with a self-consciously cool character name from the Jack Deth or Vandal Savage school of character naming. But again, the script is probably better than that of the 2005 film, and the film makes up of its weaknesses in the writing with strong execution and passion for the material. Once all hell starts to break loose, it doesn't matter all that much if the script is a little bit weak, as long as the film is fun and suspenseful, and it certainly is both of those things. Aliens it isn't, but it is a very enjoyable B-movie actioner that delivers the goods, and that's enough.image courtesy Universal PicturesIt may not have theatrical production values, but Doom: Annihilation deserved a lot better than the barely-marketed straight-to-video obscurity that Universal slipped it out into. Even with some shortcomings, it's a really fun movie that delivers on both horror and action, and delivers on the concepts's demonic promise in exactly the way 2005 Doom didn't. It clearly was made by a big fan of the games, and was made for fans of the games. In particular, those who have been fond of the franchise since the early-90s Doom and Doom II days will have a lot of fun with its Easter-eggs, references, and reasonably accurate translations of the game. Within the grand scheme of video game movies, Doom: Annihilationhas got to fall at least within the upper third, quality-wise. It is definitely a lot better than plenty of video game movies that did manage to get theatrical releases, and is really worth a look.-Christopher S. Jordan (function() { var zergnet = document.createElement('script'); zergnet.type = 'text/javascript'; zergnet.async = true; zergnet.src = (document.location.protocol == "https:" ? "https:" : "http:") + '//'; var znscr = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0]; znscr.parentNode.insertBefore(zergnet, znscr); })();

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