When the Doom video game franchise was rebooted in 2016, everyone was surprised with how incredible it ended up being. A high-octane trip through Hell, the latest entry brought the series back to its days of killing demons first and asking questions later. In a rather surprising move, director Tony Giglio has attempted to do the same with a reboot to the universally reviled 2005 film adaptation of the franchise — with even more shocking results. Doom: Annihilation takes its time to get going, immediately setting itself up as more stylistically in line with the 2016 video game reboot, but eventually lets loose to be a solid attempt at evoking the franchise magic.
What exactly is that magic? Doom: Annihilation knows that the game works best when its firing on all cylinders — the action is hectic, the demons are macabre, and the weaponry is deliciously volatile. Doom: Annihilation hits all those marks, and particularly nails the demon appearances themselves. Utilizing practical effects for the creatures, scenes with the actual demons are the best in the film, with blood spilled at every corner and an insatiable amount of bullets needed before an enemy is truly dead. While this latest outing follows in the footsteps of the 2005 version by having zombie-like creatures litter the first few gunfights, it isn’t long before Doom: Annihilation introduces Hell on Mars. Which is when the fun really begins…
That said, the first act is a bit of a struggle to get through for a variety of reasons. While little can be said about how much Doom: Annihilation cares about its plot, the same as can be said about the 2016 game itself, or even films like Aliens and its subsequent sequels. The film kicks off with a bunch of marines getting sent to a base on one of Mars’ moons, only to find out that the entire crew has been slaughtered; no part of this is new territory. There’s some fun to be had in the exposition dumps, however, which are a blissful combination of silly and stupid.
With fairly mundane characters that all feel like stereotypical marines, the story ends up lacking any dramatic effect because a lot of the weight is put on the main character, Lieutenant Joan Dark (Amy Manson). Unfortunately, her backstory is kept vague until the climax is about to hit, which stalls the film before it can get to its incredibly satisfying final act. It hurts most to sit through those first thirty minutes because the acting is so wooden and lifeless, with only obsessed scientist Dr. Malcolm Betruger (Dominic Mafham) bringing a level of devilishness to his character.
However, it’s clear that good acting doesn’t always matter in a film like this; 2005’s Doom had a cast more than ready to try and elevate material that simply couldn’t be elevated. In this case, however, the actors keep everything at a relatively B-movie level, despite the production excelling in almost every other regard. The design is standard clean-looking space base, but that sterility lends to the eventual realization of minions of Hell being unleashed on Earth, as the sets get covered in entrails and other insides. The portal that situates itself at the center of the plot looks like it’s ripped straight from the video games, covered in demonic runes that glow a bright red as it activates. The demons, as previously mentioned, are appropriately grotesque, and Giglio blends the practical effects of the demon suits with CG projectiles from both guns and the demons themselves in order to craft a schlocky affair that most B-movie genre fans will adore.
It would also be a shame not to mention that Doom: Annihilation includes a nice amount of references to the game without necessarily going overboard with them. The most endearing nod is its use of colored keycards, which characters need to access specific parts of the facility. The usual suspects are here for nods, but unlike the 2005 film, they all seem to come from a place of affection for the game and are not used merely as a way to distract from the film’s glaring flaws. In this case, leaning into connections to the games is a way of bringing audiences further into the self-aware and gleefully violent tone.
When everything ultimately comes together and the film reaches its unsurprising conclusion, Doom: Annihilation is an utter delight. The closest comparison one could make is with 2017’s Beyond Skyline — another successful revisit to a movie nobody wanted. While Giglio doesn’t quite reach the same ambitious heights as Liam O’Donnell did with his kitchen-sink approach to Beyond Skyline, the director still works wonders within his limitations and recognizes the importance of production design and practical effects in keeping a film of Doom: Annihilation’s caliber enthralling. If it all looked cheap, this would feel more like a bad SyFy channel original. Instead, the movie knows its limitations and reaches within them.
Of course, the bar was so low because of the last time an adaptation of Doom was tried. The shocking fact is that Doom: Annihilation isn’t just clearing that bar, but making a solid introduction to a franchise that could hypothetically continue if the same effort and care is put into further sequels. With only a taste of the demonic energy that could feed this franchise, Doom: Annihilation is a solid B-movie that rips and tears its way to the finish line while remaining a faithful adaptation to the popular shooter franchise.