By Trevor Sheffield
To get it out of the way at the top, Rampage is barely anything like its arcade cabinet source material. Originally released in 1986 by Bally Midway (later Midway Games) the game had a simple concept: normal people get mutated into giant monsters (specifically, a massive ape, werewolf, and some Godzilla-adjacent kaiju) then up to three players control these monsters simultaneously and promptly engage in decimating various cityscapes, fighting off the military, plucking people from buildings and eating them for health, and leveling more buildings than a demolition crew on cocaine.
A LOT of cocaine.
Regardless, the film adaptation (released on April 13, 2018 and directed by Brad Peyton, whose body of work includes such timeless classics as Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore) keeps the “essential” details (a giant wolf, lizard-creature, and ape named George go to town on a major city) while adding a fourth hulking Goliath into the fray: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Bigger meets badder
Rampage follows the story of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a primatologist/anti-poaching unit head whose name, Davis Okoye, is so bland and fairly unworthy of the man with it that I refuse to use it in the context of talking about this film. Dwayne’s defining character trait in this film, aside from that fact that he can take a bullet, numerous cuts, a massive fall, and presumably a major concussion in the last act and somehow walk it off without anything more than a slight limp, is that he prefers to be around animals instead of people. This trait is brought up through the introduction of George, an albino gorilla and Dwayne’s ”best friend.” A wrench is immediately thrown into the works when George is exposed to a sample of a mutagenic chemical that gradually turns him into a gigantic angry rampaging monster. Now, Dwayne (with the help of a former genetic engineer played by Naomie Harris) has to track down, stop, and potentially save his primate from the beast he has become.
There’s also a giant crocodile, a wolf that can fly (and is also a porcupine), and a semi-literal self-proclaimed government cowboy played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Need I say more on that?
The entire plot of the movie comes off as the plot for a movie based off an old Saturday morning cartoon from the eighties, which seems eerily fitting given the source. However, this kind of simplistic, goofy tone is at odds with the occasionally grotesque and violent imagery that is peppered throughout the movie. For example, the opening set piece (taking place in a nearly-compromised space station still in orbit) contains shots of disembodied limbs and dead bodies lingering in zero gravity, along with a vibe akin to something out of Alien. This is all before immediately cutting to Dwayne cracking jokes at the expense of a cocky student of his. A more prominent scene depicting this discrepancy in tone is when a group of soldiers are picked off one-by-one by Ralph (the wolf, as named in a one-off gag that’s only there to reference the game) in a gruesome fashion. This tonal problem leads the film into a stand-off on what exactly it wants to be. With the simplistic story structure, childishness, and occasional bouts of downtime from monster mayhem devoted to focusing on our “characters,” I fail to see how this could hold the attention of fans of the original game. In turn, the scenes featuring graphic violence, death, and as many PG-13 -level curses as can be featured in a film of this caliber before the MPAA pumps the brakes and bumps the rating up makes me question where exactly what this film’s true motives actually are.
Two worlds, one calamity
However, throughout this film, despite the trite love angle between Johnson and Harris that is practically only there to check off the box on the list of blockbuster clichés demanding that there HAS to be one, the relationship at the core of this film is between our intrepid Rock and George, a sarcastic albino gorilla who was saved from poachers by The Rock and ultimately becomes one of the massive monsters laying siege to innocent bystanders by the time the third act rolls around. Throughout the film, The Rock’s driving motivation is to find a cure for George’s temper tantrum, and by proxy, save his friend. The film is very insistent on emphasizing how close the two are as buddies, with Dwayne constantly referring to the ape as his “friend” whenever possible in conversation. Undeniably, this relationship is the closest this film comes to actually maintaining any form of emotion and, even then, there is a major flaw in the groundwork of this film that ruins that.
That flaw is that we are supposed to feel bad for Dwayne and George, despite the fact that George (in the third act’s all-out titular rampage) senselessly destroys buildings and murders people without any form of remorse or control. Of course, this is the doing of the film’s big bads, a brother and sister duo played by two actors who simply cannot act to save their lives. I mean, even when they both are just two variants on the typical Snidely Whiplash-esque corrupt corporate executive types whose only motivation is profit (as they literally state in one scene), they fail to be even an enjoyable sense of bad. Regardless, it feels at times throughout the film that George’s sentience is seemingly controlled by a light switch, his rage being flicked on and off by the plot. One moment he’s bashing in windows, the next he’s having a heart-to-heart with Dwayne. In another he’s literally eating a person whole and then playfully giving The Rock the middle finger as Dwayne argues with the beast in ASL. It’s just awkward.
Coming back to the topic of the finale itself, the special effects in this film are serviceable at best. The most effort clearly has been put into the trio of terrors at the center of the film’s premise, but when it comes to destruction and CG civilians caught in the crossfire, it looks like something out of a Playstation 3 cutscene. A similar sentiment can be shared for the rest of the production elements behind the movie that haven’t already been covered. The score is practically stock for a film like this, with no memorability to it. Cinematography has no real spark behind how the scenes are shot, and the editing at times is genuinely horrendous. I don’t know if it was a lack of attention on this reviewer’s part, but I feel like some plot-critical scenes were seemingly skipped over, or placed in a way that made it extremely hard to read the action being committed.
Rampage, outside of its source material, is a film that most of the time knows exactly what it is. It is a loud, dumb, needlessly violent and crass exercise in B-movie filmmaking. The whole affair almost feels like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is using it as an excuse to work out and test the limits of his sheer charisma. That’s not to say that this isn’t a fairly successful test (if the Rotten Tomatoes score is anything to go by in comparison to other video game adaptations prior), but it lacks any real value outside of being slightly smarter than Michael Bay movie. It can be enjoyable at times, but has nothing genuine to it.
I mean, when the feature film adaptation of Ready Player One has more substance than your movie, you know something’s wrong.
Featured image from Screenrant
If you’re looking for a juicy piece of cinema to hold you over until the summer movie season starts up, 'Rampage' isn’t for you. However, if you’re a fan of things like the 'Sharknado' franchise or enjoy watching bad movies, it’s not a bad pick. It’s cheesy, it’s almost pulpy, and a perfect entry in the endless series of movies featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in a jungle wearing what seems to be the only shirt he owns. Wait for the home release, though.