The new blockbuster Rampage hits theaters next Friday, marking a major cinematic milestone. The story of a giant gorilla, a giant wolf, and a giant reptile wreaking havoc on a city seems tailor-made for a movie, but it took 32 years to get it to the screen. That said, as a fan of monsters and all the good they do for the world, I'm just glad that it's finally here. And to make it even better, human video game protagonist The Rock is in the lead role. But this isn't Dwayne Johnson's first go-round in a video game movie, despite how much he probably wishes it were.
The year is 2005. The best video game-to-movie adaptation is Mortal Kombat. And we're still wondering whether or not this whole "The Rock as a movie star" thing is going to work out. Sure, he'd given solid performances in a few action films and comedies like The Rundown and Be Cool, but he'd yet to give us anything that would indicate he'd be one of the biggest box office draws ever just a decade later.
DOOM is not that "anything."
The reason that, in my opinion, Mortal Kombat is the best game-to-film adaptation is that it actually feels kind of like a Mortal Kombat game, while also working as a movie. Yeah, it's basically a superpowered remake of Bloodsport, but it doesn't fall all over itself trying to "movie-fy" the concept of a bunch of magical ninjas participating in a tropical island fighting tournament. It doesn't try to smooth out its silliness for the people in the audience that are asking "UMM, WHY DOES HE HAVE FOUR ARMS? Don't think THAT could happen in real life."
DOOM's plan, on the other hand? Make it a lot like the Resident Evil movies. There is no hint of the hellscape that you're constantly wading through in the games — just a lot of hallways and science-ey rooms and steam coming from grates and pipes. In the DOOM games, you never really learn much about the scientific process of how the people were mutated into or killed by monstrosities. For the most part, you just assume that a portal to hell would bring about some strange stuff. I don't need a doctor's note to confirm that some demons might come out of a warp to the netherworld.
The movie, on the other hand, feels the need to explain it in detail that is both sparse AND exhausting. There are extra chromosomes and ancient races of aliens that might not be aliens? They try to fit a lot of exposition into a single scene and then drop sparse hints later like, "They weren't trying to stop something from getting in. Something stopped them from getting out!" that don't really mean anything. Like, of course, the human-killing monster would want to keep its prey around. A dramatic pause is not required for this kind of discovery. But I guess that's what you get when you establish a plot in the first 30 minutes and then abandon most of it entirely.
The plot that we do get in the latter half of the movie is typical "The monsters… were people" zombie stuff, which isn't bad, but it feels remarkably unlike DOOM, which did not ask you to sympathize with the creatures barreling towards you at all times. And if we're supposed to feel bad for the monsters, it might help to not explode all of them with machine gun fire every time one shows up. But if they didn't eviscerate them with bullets, it would be even less like DOOM. So that's DOOM the movie: a movie that's not quite sure that it wants to be DOOM.
However, DOOM does have some positive qualities, but they all come from mid-2000s cinema ridiculousness. At one point, a soldier fights an Imp (one of the most common kinds of villains in the original game) in a pit with electrified walls. He dropkicks it, and then beats it up with large pieces of metal. And he does it to a soundtrack of rad guitar and industrial noises. It reminded me of the (superior) Freddy vs Jason, which would ditch its orchestral score and horror for heavy guitar and slasher villain karate.
The most infamous scene from the movie is probably the first person sequence with Karl Urban shooting at monsters that pop up in front of him like haunted house employees. Back in 2005, I thought this was pretty dumb, but now, as it's one of the few respites that this movie gets from its own encroaching dullness, I dig the hell out of it. It's fast-paced and thus a little more memorable than the rest of the movie, which alternates between men walking five feet and shooting guns and men stopping in hallways for a few minutes to talk about not knowing what the hell is going on.
But the biggest strength of the movie probably comes from the fact that Dwayne Johnson was not yet a major movie star and could play one of the most unlikable pricks in the film. He doesn't really do anything but yell at the other characters, and his one personality trait is "Slightly too angry," but he's unpredictable. However, as he is on the poster, they don't allow him to mutate too much when he transforms into the final boss of the movie. At his worst, he just looks like he's all dried out from a particularly bad hangover.
I do like this era of The Rock when it comes to his onscreen combat, though. He was only about three years removed from his pro wrestling days, so he was still forced to do cartoonish airplane spins, kip ups, and ungodly throws. But since this is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and not just "The Rock," we get movie-friendly punches and kicks, too. It's a style of fighting that I wish he'd do more nowadays, instead of The Rock steamrolling through stuntmen and extras as if he's playing a tutorial level.
Overall, how does DOOM fit in the pantheon of video game adaptations? Well, it was certainly the best one of 2005, which also saw the release of Uwe Boll's Alone in the Dark. But it's not as good as stuff like Silent Hill, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, the first Resident Evil, or the aforementioned Mortal Kombat, mainly because it just never feels like a DOOM movie. It feels like it could've been an adaptation of any game franchise that includes guns and something to shoot at.
And when you're making an adaptation, one of the worst things that you can do is leave audiences thinking "Well, that could have been anything."