British writer-director Neil Marshall staked his claim as a B-movie auteurist with 2005's surprise commercial and critical hit The Descent, crafting an effective thriller that also delivered the ample blood and guts that horror fans demand. Now, with his (relatively) big-budget follow-up Doomsday, Marshall dispenses with subtlety and goes balls-out with his wildest '80s sci-fi-action movie fantasies. Marshall's fixation on John Carpenter and early James Cameron is all too apparent, but his own distinctive cinematic style isn't, making Doomsday a likeably rambling but generic shoot-'em-up.
Doomsday begins with a typical setup for a post-apocalyptic adventure story: Something called the Reaper virus has swept through Scotland, causing evil government officials to quarantine the country with a fortified wall around the borders. Thirty years later, signs of life in Glasgow suggest that there might be a cure for the virus, which has just broken out in London. So dead-eyed bureaucrat David O'Hara (nearly as malevolent as he was in The Departed) sends in a team of roughnecks led by Linda Hamilton-esque hard-ass Rhona Mitra to suss it out. After battling an army of punked-out, Fine Young Cannibals-loving survivors headed up by the maniacally mohawked Craig Conway, Mitra arrives at the medieval-style getaway of mad scientist Malcolm McDowell, a Colonel Kurtz figure who might be able to help.
As the plot synopsis makes plain, Doomsday plays more like a series of mini-remakes than a single, cohesive film. It begins as an homage to Escape From New York, lifting not only a few plot elements, but Carpenter's electronic score and even his cheesy map graphics. Then it's on to militaristic action scenes that aspire to the kineticism of Aliens. Finally, there's a big car chase straight out of Mad Max. (The McDowell sequences, meanwhile, come off like the weirdest Lord Of The Rings tribute since Flight Of The Conchords.) Doomsday is sort of like Grindhouse for film fans who grew up 10 years after the '70s exploitation era, and got their kicks from watching the same blockbusters over and over on Cinemax. Marshall's enthusiasm is infectious, and while Doomsday is never as exciting as its source materials, it is fun in an agreeably dumb, unpretentious way. But if Marshall wants people to steal from him someday, he's going to have to stop stealing so blatantly from others.