Friday, May 14, 2010

The Insanometer: Doomsday

Every once in a while, I watch a movie that I'm not quite sure how to review it afterwards. It's certainly not good, but at the same time, there's a certain verve, a wonderfully strange vitality to it that prevents me from hating it even while I notice its flaws. A movie that I can only call insane. And how does one measure these films? With an insanometer, of course! So let's calibrate this thing by turning it on the 2008 film Doomsday.

Doomsday was director Neil Marshall's third flick, following his breakout hit Dog Soldiers and his well-received horror film The Descent. For this movie, he decided to pull out all the stops and most of the cliches for a semi-post-apocalyptic movie set in a semi-futuristic Great Britain. Well, most of Great Britain at any rate--as the film opens, we see that a deadly plague called the Reaper virus has infected Scotland. Naturally, the decision is made to build a big wall across Scotland, as this will stop the plague from getting across. No, really. That's actually what they do. Apparently, everyone in Scotland politely waits for them to finish building the big wall, and only then do they decide to charge the big door in the middle to try to escape. (Boats? Pffh. Everyone knows that Scotland is land-locked.)

Sure enough, the British close the big door, sealing up all the Scottish people inside, whether infected or not. Oh, except for a cute little girl. Because everyone knows plagues don't affect cute little girls. That cute little girl grows up to be Rhona Mitra, a bad-ass super-spy undercover future-cop with a cyborg eye that records everything she sees. (And there's certainly no way that this will become a plot point later.) She works for hard-boiled tough-but-loveable Bob Hoskins, who is good in every damn thing he's in and this is no exception. And after an obligatory action sequence to show her bad-assness and her rebellious "I don't do things by the book" streak, she gets an important assignment from Prime Minister Julian Bashir. (Yes, yes, I know, he's actually Alexander Siddig. He's also actually good in this too. He's still Doctor Bashir to me.)

See, it turns out that somehow, walling off Scotland didn't stop the plague after all. It's popped up in the heart of London. People are dying. But they've been watching Scotland with satellites, and it turns out that in fact, lots of people survived the plague. The assumption is that they're immune, and Rhona Mitra needs to go in there with a team of scientists to find whatever makes them immune and bring it back. Oh, and there's a scientist who was working on a cure in there. He's bound to be dead, of course, but he might have left research. And he certainly isn't still alive and played by Malcolm McDowell. (This is 90% of the reason this movie works, by the way. It's just got so damn many good actors who aren't afraid to give it their all in silly parts.)

So Rhona Mitra and her crew of redshirts go into Scotland, only to fall victim to a civil war among the plague survivors. See, Malcolm McDowell's scientist character has decided that the only way to survive in the devastated post-plague Scotland is to set up his very own Renaissance Festival in one of the abandoned castles, while his son Sol (played with absolutely berserk gusto by Craig Conway) feels strongly that it'd be better to do a touring production of "Mad Max: The Musical". Sol and his ragtag band of vicious cannibals survives in the post-apocalyptic wasteland with only their wits, their weapons, and an unlimited supply of hair gel and tattooing equipment. Oh, and cars and motorcycles and stuff that they still have gas for after twenty years. And metric tons of sheep.

Meanwhile, back in London, Prime Minister Bashir's second-in-command is saying, "Hey, you know, we've got a little bit of an overpopulation problem...and we've got an incurable plague ravaging Britain. Why don't we let these two things solve each other before we distribute any hypothetical cure Rhona Mitra might find?" The Prime Minister is receptive, until a crazed plague victim breaks in and infects him, forcing the rest of the government to quarantine him in his own office. With no cure, and a potentially agonizing death awaiting him, Bashir is forced to end the holodeck program, if you know what I mean.

Back in Scotland, Rhona Mitra finds out that Malcolm McDowell never bothered to cure the plague--he found out that a lot of people, himself included, are just naturally immune. (Does this actually work with any virus outside of a movie? I mean, do people just happen to naturally be immune to yellow fever or cholera? I always kind of thought that the people who didn't get sick were just lucky enough not to be infected.) He decides to kill Rhona and the two or three surviving redshirts in a trial by combat. Unfortunately for him, Rhona is a main character, and the giant evil guy with the armor and the spiked mace isn't. And in movies like this, that's more than enough to even the odds.

Rhona escapes with her last surviving redshirt and one of the locals. After a truly spectacularly bizarre chase sequence with the Road Warrior rejects that ends in the death of Sol, she makes it back to the border, and tells the new Prime Minister (the evil second-in-command) that the local's blood contains the immunity factor they need. He says, "Oh, goodie! But of course, we won't distribute it until all those icky poor people are dead. By the way, is your cyborg eye getting my good side? I'd really hate to have my vicious evil speech captured on tape with my mole showing."

Rhona passes the disc with the recording on it to Bob Hoskins, thus ensuring that gruff-but-lovable will triumph over evil. But she tells him that she wants to return to her roots and stay in Scotland, where she doesn't have to deal with all the corruption and politics. Then she goes and finds Sol's corpse, hacks his head off, and presents it to the tribe of cannibals. They say, "Oh, God, no! You killed our friend and leader! He was a wonderful man, once you got to know him, kind and generous! He had five kids! What are we going to tell his wife? You murderous, murderous monster! What kind of people do you think we are, savages?"

Nah, I kid. They cheer her on and elect her as their new chief. This is, I guess, good?

On the insanometer, this one ranks quite high. Star Trek actor in vastly out-of-Trek-character role? Check. Inexplicable, unworkable post-apocalyptic society, complete with hair gel and tattoos? Check. Said post-apocalyptic cannibals playing Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Two Tribes"? Believe it or not, check. Bad-ass hot woman as the hero? Check. (Said woman not played Milla Jovovitch? Happily enough, check.) Malcolm McDowell as a bad guy? That's a big check. Lots of scenes of people dying of hideous plague? Check. On the insanometer, I'm going to call this eight.


chiasaur11 said...

I'm pretty sure most diseases have people who are immune to them to some degree or other. Saw a special on AIDs a few years back that had people on it who survived like twenty years with no symptoms.

I mean, not getting it is better, sure, but some people just have kickass immune systems.

If I remember right.

Anonymous said...

my probem with this movie was something you touched on. The government only detects movement within the wall for the last few weeks, and yet, the mad max people have been exploding stuff, having roasts for their guests, and that was only noticed a few weeks ago? And, it's been a year or two since i saw this, but didn't they say the people "resorted to canibalism"? And yet, they have the sheep, as you mentioned, and the cows.

John Seavey said...

Yeah, they didn't so much "resort to" cannibalism as "ferociously embrace" it. :) I didn't think of that so much as a plot hole as a sign that the Mad Max-types were all total jerks.

LurkerWithout said...

"Doomsday" has a scene with an exploding gimp. That and the reasons above make it a frontrunner for Awesomest Movie of All Time...

And to think the roommate almost got me to see "The Bank Job" instead...

Fred said...

Doomsday is less a movie and more a (mostly reverent) pastiche of other movies. Mostly it's "Snake Plissken Beyond Thunderdome." It's enjoyable enough for a ridiculous mess, but it does fall apart the minute you apply any kind of logical thought to it.

Will said...

I really liked this movie it's like a greatest hits compilation of action flicks from the last 20 years. Rhona should have gone on to better things, think she would make a great Wonder Woman.

Don't forget Typhoid Mary who was infected but wasn't sick herself & still was able to infect other. Magic Johnson has HIV but not AIDS
as do a lot of other people.

So far there's no disease that can kill 100% of the population

Anonymous said...

I recall this movie had a moment with a decapitated head flying into the camera? Maybe I'm wrong?

I was disappointed, after The Descent and Dog Soldiers, because although it had the pace of the former it didn't have the same tight storyline and snappy dialogue. And The Descent is completely, horribly awesome.

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