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

Image from IMDb

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?

Image from IMDb

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.

Image from IMDb

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.

In Kong-clusion

Image from IMDb

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

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