I signed up to serve my country, not to get greased protecting some corporation’s goddamn science project.
— Portman (Richard Brake)
Doom is not full of surprises. It is full of brutal, fierce, bloody gore, much like in the video game. As Sarge, the Rock is entertaining, showing off his hard body and investing workmanlike dialogue with some humor. When an archeological research facility on Mars comes under assault by monstrous mutants, he and his men are assigned to recover survivors and data, but most importantly, to contain the threat. “With extreme prejudice,” and so on.
As his men are set up as reductive types — the screw-up, the newbie, the Asian guy (Mac [Yao Chin]), a couple of black guys (Duke [Raz Adoti] and Destroyer [DeObia Oparei]) — the Rock has a lot of entertaining to do. The marines’ mission is one of those “bug hunts” made spectacular and more or less requisite for these sorts of movies by James Cameron’s Aliens. They’re sent to Mars to investigate a containment breach: an archeological research facility has lost scientists and data (one more expendable than the other). As usually happens in such situations, the scientists have run into the fallout from a gone-wrong experiment conducted by a previous crew on this now “dead planet,” namely, super-strong, super-mean genetic mutants. They pass on their “infection” by piercing flesh, preferably the neck, whereupon a 24th chromosome pair is transmitted into the victim, who dies then revives, ready to kill everything in sight, zombie-style.
Among these researchers is forensic archaeologist Samantha Grimm (Rosamund Pike), whose brother John (Karl Urban) happens to be one of Sarge’s best marines. Nicknamed Reaper, he became a soldier following their archeologist father’s death, and Sam resents his decision to “waste” his brilliant mind. “Does it ever bother you,” she asks him, not a little angrily, “That you could have spent your life looking into a microscope instead of a sniper scope?” While the movie gives you a few minutes to imagine these fraternal twins are ex-lovers who haven’t seen one another in 10 years (as Reaper lets slip in his protestation to Sarge that he’s up for the job even though you-know-who is there), the precise dimensions of their relationship are only a distraction, and have precious little to do with the central plot, which might be summed up in two words: shooting mutants. Still, the siblings business suggests that someone along the way — maybe even writers Wesley Strick and David Callaham, or ably outrageous action director Andrzej Bartkowiak — gave the script some thought, perhaps looking to resist the usual corny male-female survivors coupling.
Also gesturing toward complexity (or at least some attention to detail) is the film’s consideration of the marines’ self-rationalizing. While the characters are mostly set up as in a slasher film (or a video game), destined to die sudden, yucky deaths, a couple spend a line of dialogue or so worrying about what they’re doing. The hard-ass Christian Goat (Ben Daniels) is so spiritually dedicated that when he takes the lord’s name in vain during one scary encounter, he carves a cross into his arm. When he starts to turn into a mutant following an assault that left him a corpse on a med-lab gurney, he takes more drastic action. When he wakes, eyes sunken and cheeks withered, he realizes what’s happening and, crossing his mutant chest beforehand, slams his head repeatedly into an unbreakable glass partition so as to kill himself, sinfully but also morally (as he otherwise will go on to kill or convert other humans).
The morality of the research project comes up for the usual scrutiny when Sarge realizes what’s going on (this after multiple reiterations of the usual question: “What the fuck is going on!?” or maybe, “Tell me what the fuck is going on!”). His boy Portman (Richard Brake) complains that they’re soldiers fighting for a corporation — as if the idea of nation makes any sense in our present or his future. And Sarge the lifer puts him in his place — Sarge gives orders. Everyone else obeys his orders.
For Sarge, the mission — issued by ignorant superior officers — is simple. The unit is assigned to retrieve data and keep the mutants from moving through the same passageway (called the “Arc”) through which he and the guys have arrived on Mars. If this means everyone dies along with the mutants, so be it. Actually, he only feels this way until he’s infected, and then turns into Dolph Lundgren from Universal Soldier, who had the benefit of a better script and more supportive costars, including the excellent Ally Walker and the never-dull Jean-Luc Van Damme.
This version of the gung-ho zombie marine is nearly as gnarly as Lundgren’s however, and definitely more personable (it’s the Rock). When he laces into the snively Kid (Al Weaver) for not killing civilians whom Sarge feels ordered to kill (“We kill ’em all, and let God sort ’em out”), he only seems in need of a human ear necklace to complete the bad-war analogy: he’s “gone native,” as grim and brutal as the mutants they’re supposed to be fighting. The fact that the Kid has previously screwed up (and been reamed by Reaper) after popping drugs to keep or maybe lose his “edge” only underlines his earnestness here. He’s right, the Sarge is wrong. And the Rock remains the most charismatic object on screen.
He maintains this status by interacting with every other object — fleshed or not — with the same detailed spin on solemnity. He gazes hard at each opponent, whether mutant, civilian, or wayward commandee, and makes sure said opponent feels his incipient wrath. And Sarge appropriately loves those Doomy weapons, though he’s not the one who gets to wield the chainsaw. He’s got handguns, fat-and-fast shotguns, and, at last, the famous “Bio Force Gun,” which he rechristens the big fucking gun (here, this line passes as erudite joking).
The character who does end up nearly dead and rejuvenated by a shot of the 24th chromosomes leads to the film’s most abstract sequence, a first person shooter’s point-of-view run through a series of hallways filled with mutants and available weapons. It’s clever enough, a minutes-long treat for game fans. But it also suggests the limits of such perspective for movies, where consumers can’t interact. Watching the weapons take out creature after creature, while the guitar-track grinds on, you find yourself waiting for the Rock to show up again. He’s where the action is.