The infamous “video game curse” is now broken through competently enjoyable movies like Pokémon: Detective Pikachu and Sonic the Hedgehog. But twenty years ago, a good video game movie was unheard of — and not for lack of trying.
In 2005, one of the most notorious video games actually made its way to the big screen, with big-name actors to boot. The results are, to put it mildly, not great. But that doesn’t mean it’s still not a good time.
Based on a revolutionary 1993 video game, this sci-fi action-horror movie is the movie you need to watch on Netflix before it leaves on April 27.
In Doom, from director Andrzej Bartkowiak, the year is 2046, and Mars is partially colonized via a portal beneath Nevada. The Union Aerospace Corporation (UAC) has been attacked, which summons a squad of Marines led by Sgt. “Sarge” Asher Mahonin (Dwayne Johnson) to investigate and rescue survivors. Joining Sarge is John “Reaper” Grimm (Karl Urban), who reunites with his sister Dr. Sam Grimm (Rosamund Pike), a scientist at the facility. It’s there that everyone fights to survive against genetically-enhanced zombies.
Yeah, I know. Zombies.
Five years before The Walking Dead stammered onto cable TV, Doom already felt passé in its use of zombies over demons. The movie had one job (have The Rock and Éomer shoot demons) yet it still didn’t use the very thing that made the games great in the first place.
The Doom of Doom
When the video game Doom came out in 1993 from programmers John Romero and John Carmack (the latter of whom is honored in the film as the namesake for a key character), pop culture was fresh from the Satanic Panic of the ‘80s.
For geeks, it was when tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons and Black Sabbath horrified the conservative right. Doom, which popularized first-person shooter games (but importantly was not the first FPS game), felt like a kind of revenge for all that bullshit. It was an unparalleled power fantasy in which gamers carried shotguns into the gates of Hell.
There was nothing like Doom when it came out, and even now, few games live up to the franchise’s particular brand of machismo. Bartkowiak’s Doom film was... nothing like that. Aside from the familiar notes of “At Doom’s Gate” in Clint Mansell’s score, Doom is virtually indistinguishable from other, better sci-fi military flicks like Aliens and Starship Troopers. At least James Cameron and Paul Verhoeven’s films made points about the troubled tangling of science and military imperialism in outer space; Doom does not.
The movie actually caught flak for this from fans prior to its release. In a 2005 interview with Ain’t It Cool News, Urban had a diplomatic approach as he described the movie as an exploration of Hell “in a multitude of forms.”
“Maybe not as literal as some people would like, but is basically represented in a kind of multi-faceted way. There's references to where these creatures come from... I mean, my character makes a reference in the film about the origin of the creatures. You know, it's really up to ... it's down to your personal belief system and what you believe Hell is. There are so many different interpretations of that concept. I think I can safely say that I believe we are faithful to a multitude of concepts of Hell.”
In other words: Doom the movie isn’t Doom the game.
But any movie, even a disposable action film based on a video game, can still be more than the sum of its parts. Sometimes, all a movie needs are its vibes, and Doom has plenty of that. In the unusual yet charismatic triangle of stars — reliable genre veteran Urban, destined Golden Globe winner Rosamund Pike, and a pre-Fast Five Dwayne Johnson — Doom is still a rollicking relic of the mid-2000s when sequels and post-credits scenes weren’t mandatory and Urban was feasibly going to be a bigger action star than The Rock.
At least, that’s what the climax promised. Clearly inspired by the source material, Doom does have a first-person sequence that is still worth watching in 2021. It’s primitive compared to the likes of more recent pictures like Hardcore Henry or Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island. But between the genuine attempt and Mansell’s score that pays homage to gaming nostalgia, the movie’s FPS climax is still as fun as playing Doom yourself. Maybe you’ll find the rest of the movie as fun, too.
Doom is streaming now on Netflix until April 27.