On Second Thought: DOOMSDAY Can’t Live Up To Its Inspirations

by Ed Travis

On Second Thought

The second viewing of a film can be as formative as the first. That first viewing is enough to experience and form opinions on the work, but as often as not a second viewing can either alter or solidify one’s initial reactions. The passage of time, a change of setting, a few months or years of reflection: all of these factors can have an enormous impact on one’s take on the re-visiting of a film. On Second Thought explores a Cinapse team member’s experience of a particular film, specifically upon their second viewing of it. How did their feelings change? What strengths and weaknesses were solidified or confirmed due to that second viewing? Read on to find out!

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time dwelling in the worlds of Snake Plissken and Max Rockatansky this year. Between hosting a screening of Escape From New York, hosting a themed Mad Max marathon party complete with apocalypse-appropriate dishes such as Dinki-Di dog food chili and actual python meat (not to mention Tina Turnovers), reviewing the new Escape From New York Blu-ray which has 3 commentary tracks (all of which I listened to), or even seeing The Road Warrior on the big screen during SXSW… I’ve just spent a whole lot of time with old Max and Snake this year. These are two of my all time favorite cinematic characters.

So it made sense to dust off my Blu-ray of Neil Marshall’s Doomsday (2008) when the time came for me to select a Cinapse Pick Of The Week. I’ve always been a fan of both Marshall and this film in particular. I’d seen and loved it in the theater, I’d snatched up the Blu-ray early on in the life of the format, and I’d probably seen it about three times in total over the years. (I know, I’m cheating on the whole “on second thought” gimmick, but work with me here).

Seeing it in theaters was a pure joy, and an experience I soon found would be a lonely one. I’ve long been a cymbal-clanger for Doomsday when it seemed like no one else was really particularly taken with it. I wanted to explain to the world: But wait, check this out: Doomsday is an homage/mash-up of Escape From New York and The Road Warrior! I felt like, as long as I explained that, then fans would be immediately converted. Or at least appreciate the thing a little more. But I guess 2008 Ed Travis was a lot more impressed by homage, or merely by seeing the things I love about EFNY and Road Warrior getting a fancy new upgrade. Because 2015 Ed Travis simply couldn’t bring himself to choose Doomsday as a Pick Of The Week.

Sure, there’s still a lot to like in Doomsday. Rhona Mitra is just a stone cold fox as the lead character Eden Sinclair. She’s tough, she’s capable, and she looks amazing. I also love that Marshall took the premise of EFNY involving the walling off of an entire area and applying it to Scotland, complete with a futuristic recreation of Hadrian’s Wall from back in the Roman times. This time the cause is a virus outbreak in an overcrowded future, instead of the more clean concept of crime rising out of control which happens in EFNY. Doomsday also features Bob Hoskins, which is more or less a win or at the very least is ALWAYS a mark in the plus column. Less reliably awesome is Malcolm McDowell, who has a pretty far out role here as well, and ends up being an easy highlight of Doomsday as well. More on that in a minute. The movie combines some of the highlights of EFNY and The Road Warrior and proves it isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine these two stories happening in virtually the same world. Like the Mad Max universe is how Australians chose to handle the apocalypse, and the EFNY universe is how America deals with it. The film is also gleefully, almost disgustingly R-rated. So there are still some bright spots to be found in Doomsday. But I think where I used to find its pastiche homage clever, I now just couldn’t help but realize that the film never does anything better than any of its inspirations, and that sin should not be taken lightly. And not only that, by melding these two influences together you lose the clean and simple feel of the original concepts. Doomsday shoehorns in a bunch of stuff in the name of reference, all to the detriment of its own characters and narrative.

Mitra’s Snake Plissken analog Sinclair escaped Scotland as a child at the last moment before the whole country was sealed off, losing an eye and her mother in the process. Decades later, as a tough as nails military officer, she is asked to go back into the supposedly desolate and abandoned Scotland in the vain hopes of finding a cure to the reaper virus, as it has returned and begun to spread through London. She has 48 hours and a bunch of neat gadgets and could this possibly be more ripped off from EFNY?

Only Sinclair has a team of soldiers with her where Plissken went in solo. As Sinclair’s team explores Scotland in their armored vehicles and quickly come under siege by rampaging cannibals, Doomsday lapses into Aliens homage and once again fails to deliver anything on par with what it is honoring. After the entire first half of the film revels in Carpenter-riff-land, my favorite element pops up out of nowhere and rejuvenated things. When Sinclair and a few mysterious potential allies escape the cannibals of the urban wasteland, they retreat to a world run by McDowell which has reverted to Medieval times in an effort to cleanse the virus from their ranks. Humorously holing up in an ancient castle which had once become a tourist destination and is now a fortified shelter once again, the sharp turn to medieval imagery and swords and horses and suits of armor bring the most fresh air and wacky fun that Doomsday has to offer.

As Sinclair discovers the closest she is ever going to find to a “cure” for this virus, a prolonged chase sequence ensues that goes straight from horseback to Road Warrior-esque multi-car chase. It is all ridiculous and worked for me in the past. But after rewatching the entire Mad Max trilogy just weeks ago, Doomsday simply isn’t a satisfying follow up. George Miller is able to capture so much more kineticism and bonkers energy with his unique visions of chaos. Here Marshall is only able to pay ill-fitting homage. Crazy cars and mohawked villains do not a great chase make.

There’s never any question that Sinclair will save the day… and yes, look amazing doing it. The only real question is how will she one-up the corrupt officials who sent her on her mission? After all, that is what Snake Plissken does, right?

I still love Neil Marshall. From Dog Soldiers (coming to Collector’s Edition Scream Factory Blu-ray next month), and The Descent (still Marshall’s best), to Doomsday and Centurion, he got me through the first decade of the 2000s with massive genre entertainment done creatively and on a budget. There’s a whole mess of actors from the United Kingdom that I came to know or love or simply continue to enjoy through those films. And he’s not exactly hurting these days, either, after directing some of the biggest and most complex episodes of a little show called Game Of Thrones. I do hope to see him get back into feature film writing and directing his own smaller scale films with big heart.

And you know what? I spent a lot of years fondly remembering Doomsday and enjoying it for what it was. I just can’t fully endorse it today. It can’t hold a candle to the films that inspire it, and has to work too hard to throw in every reference and homage and story beat until it all just feels clunky and on the nose. This is something that can easily happen to something which never quite forges its own identity. Whereas The Road Warrior and Escape From New York started a whole craze of post-apocalypse tales which bit off of their unique visions, Doomsday can only point you back to those earlier, better films.

And I’m Out.

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