Videogame geeks and LAN-party enthusiasts everywhere, prepare to meet your “Doom” — because it’s really not all that bad. Ultra-derivative bigscreen transplant of one of the most successful (and controversial) games ever made plays like a mutant cross between a biotech thriller and a zombie movie, with all the alien autopsies, blood-gushing protuberances and meaningless scientific jargon that come with the territory. Universal can expect Rock-solid biz from the fanboy crowd before advancing to the next level on video.
Launched in 1993 by id Software, the venerable “Doom” franchise — an elaboration of the company’s classic “Wolfenstein” and a forerunner of its hugely popular “Quake” — helped popularize the first-person shooter genre while arousing much finger-wagging in the media over its graphic violence. For better or worse, there’s nothing in “Doom” the movie that’s likely to make anyone feel too upset — or, for that matter, surprised.
Though it begins on Earth (in the year 2026), pic quickly whisks through a portal to a high-tech research facility on Mars, where eight men from the Rapid Response Tactical Squad are sent to investigate and contain a genetic experiment that’s literally gone to hell. Something within the walled-off compound is attacking scientists and turning them into rabid flesh-eaters, a phenomenon that may be linked to a mysterious Martian specimen shown to possess an extra pair of chromosomes.
That’s already more plot than the game — with its fairly straightforward kill-anything-that-moves objective — had time for, and helmer Andrzej Bartkowiak (“Romeo Must Die”) allows for a rather shocking half-hour of exposition before the killing proper begins.
During that time, RRTS soldier John Grimm (Karl Urban), aka Reaper, has a tense reunion with his estranged sister, Dr. Samantha Grimm (Rosamund Pike). That’s more or less the extent of the human drama, if you don’t count the squad’s hyper-militant leader Sarge (Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson) barking belligerently at his inferiors, who have names like Destroyer (DeObia Oparei), Goat (Ben Daniels) and the Kid (Al Weaver).
Visually, pic is rough and slipshod, offering a labyrinth of grimly underlit tunnels and corridors. Still, former d.p. Bartkowiak drums up reasonable levels of tension in the first half by keeping the fast-moving monsters (with creature effects by Stan Winston Studios) in the shadows or at the edges of the frame. Only near its conclusion does the film briefly revert to the game’s first-person interface — a gambit that, absent any element of viewer interactivity, produces “Doom’s” least suspenseful passage.
Urban, who evinced a smoldering machismo during his all-too-brief moments in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, is in fine form as a stripped-down man of action, with the coolly self-possessed Pike providing a more than adequate counterpoint. Their mutual hostility — military might vs. scientific progress — reps only one of the pic’s thematic and visual similarities to George Romero’s “Day of the Dead.”
Despite being the film’s biggest B.O. draw, the Rock delivers a surprisingly humorless, uncommitted performance in an unusually villainous role. Johnson snarls and swears up a storm, but aside from a few trademark twitches of the eyebrow, he exhibits little of the easy charisma that has distinguished him among action stars.
While David Callaham and Wesley Strick’s dialogue is generally of the “Keep your distance from the core, or you might get sucked in” variety, there’s a mildly tongue-in-cheek sensibility at play here that devotees of the game will appreciate.
They’ll also thrill to the weaponry on display, which includes faithful renderings of both the classic chainsaw and the notorious BFG, a gun to end all guns that is gleefully fetishized by the camera. Other innovations, such as the exploding barrels of toxic waste, presumably will show up in the sequel.