‘Doom’ surprisingly clever for video game adaptation

“Doom,” the latest film adaptation of a popular video game series, opens with a scene common to many movies. People are being chased down a hall by some monsters, one guy gets to the door, then he shuts it on the other person so the monsters won’t get him. Some variation of this happens in just about every monster movie. In “Doom,” however, the person in the hall manages to get their arm through the door and it is severed, then it lies there twitching. This variation on such a time-honored scenario is a perfect illustration of the subtle cleverness of “Doom.”

“Doom” takes place on Mars in a giant industrial complex where all sorts of experimentation is happening. In some sort of archaeological dig they’ve found the remains of super-humanoids with a 24th chromosome. It’s the old set-up that “Aliens” did so well; there’s no communication from the place so a team of Marines is sent in. Naturally, the place is swarming with monsters and the Marines have to battle them.

The protagonist is John “Reaper” Grimm played by Karl Urban (“The Lord of the Rings”) Urban commits to the role and makes the one-dimensional action hero a likable and realistic character, which goes a long way towards making the movie work. The rest of the Marines are tried-and-true soldier types that always show up in movies like this, but there are enough quirky traits written into their characters to make them feel a little fresher. Their deaths are creative, too; characters die in unexpected ways and in a different order than it first seemed they would.

The writing doesn’t distinguish itself, but it doesn’t bring the movie down either. There are a couple nice lines thrown in. The portal-to-hell story from the video games has been replaced with a genetic-mutation-gone-awry story. There are enough icky details to keep it interesting, and it even flirts with exploring a theme: humanity’s capacity for evil. The hell demon angle from the game does come in at the end, but its metaphorical.

The video game is a first person shooter, meaning you see through the eyes of the Marine, over the barrel of his gun. The film attempts to replicate this, and ultimately succeeds in a four-minute blastathon near the film’s end. It’s an audacious move for the filmmakers, and one that runs a high risk of cheesiness. It ultimately works because of the way it is incorporated into the story. When the filmmakers do finally put us directly into Reaper’s head and he begins charging through the demon and zombie-infested complex, it feels organic and inevitable. Instead of forcing this video game perspective into their movie, filmmakers crafted a story that justified it.

There are two structural flaws in what is otherwise a competently crafted movie. The first is near the middle of the film. It pushes the tension building just a little longer than I was willing to put up with, and the guys walking around with flashlights started to get boring. Once the monsters did show up the film definitely kicked into gear, but it waited just a little too long. The other complaint I had was the anticlimactic final battle of the film. In a movie like “Doom” you’d think it would involve a guy with an outrageous weapon battling a two-story demon but no, it was basically a fistfight. The scene felt like it belonged in another movie.

“Doom” should be a lot of fun for fans of the genre because of its use of and subsequent dismantling of extremely overused cliches. It also delivers a heaping helping of guts and violence, and people that enjoy that stuff should be satisfied. Fans of the game should love it unless they can’t get over the new origin for the monsters. If you don’t fall into one of those categories, though, I can’t imagine that you’d like the movie.