The amount of good movies based on video games can be counted on one hand, even if that hand has lost a couple fingers due to poor fireworks handling, but director Brad Peyton teams up with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to give us a balls-to-the-wall action movie that is easily one of the best in the genre. Make no mistake Rampage is an incredibly silly and over-the-top action flick, but it’s also incredibly fun and despite any “Check your brain at the door” comments you may hear from some people, I assure you this film knows exactly what its doing.
The basic premise of this movie is that an evil corporation called Energyne has been experimenting with genetic editing, something most countries have made illegal, and to keep their mad science secret they put their laboratory in orbit aboard a research space station. When one of their experiments kills the entire crew, destroying the space station in the process, some of that wonderful mad science plummets to the Earth where it comes in contact with three animals. One of these hapless creatures is an albino gorilla named George who is lucky enough to be friends with Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson), a former US Army Special Forces soldier and member of an anti-poaching unit who now spends his days as a primatologist at the San Diego wildlife preserve.
When George starts to get mysteriously large over night Davis is visited by Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), a genetic engineer who once worked for Energyne in the hope that their genetic research could help her dying brother, but once she realized they were taking her research and weaponizing it she tried to destroy her work but failed. Unfortunately for America, George wasn’t the only embiggened animal, and soon we are seeing a giant wolf and enormous alligator roaming across the countryside causing all kinds of problems. Enter government Agent Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who wants to take the giant gorilla into custody and slap the cuffs on evil executive Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman) and her doofy brother Brett (Jake Lacy). And just how evil is Claire Wyden? Well to get her intellectual property back so she can sell it to the highest bidder, she activates a beacon that will lure the monsters to their Chicago headquarters.
When filmmakers in the past have tried to adapt massive cinematic video games into two hour movies the results are usually terrible i.e. Hitman: Agent 47 and Assassin’s Creed, or marginally passable as the recent Tomb Raider was, and in all those cases much of the plot and character, that would have been developed over those many hours of game playing, were sacrificed for time when it came to translating the game to the big screen. But the movie Rampage was based on an old 80s arcade game that was essentially three monsters smashing a city; you don’t really have to trim much when the source material is basically “monsters smash stuff” and any changes you make can almost be guaranteed to be an improvement. Then you add to the mix the immensely charismatic Dwayne Johnson, along with a $120 million dollar budget to provide all the city destroying carnage one could ever want, and the road to a successful film is almost assured.
Note: This movie is not at all faithful to the original game as it was you the player who was transformed into one of the monsters by the evil corporation. Though a movie where The Rock turns into a giant ape may have been interesting, the changes here kind of work in the film’s favor.
As far as movies go, Rampage was certainly no cinematic wonder, the villains were cartoonishly evil, characters pull solutions to problems out of their asses at a ridiculous rate, and Dwayne Johnson was basically an indestructible man—but the movie wasn’t selling itself as anything other than a hybrid disaster-fun-popcorn-flick film that pays tribute to such films as Mighty Joe Young, with a dash of Kong: Skull Island, borrowing Fenris the Wolf from Thor: Ragnarok, and almost acts as a placeholder until we get the remake of King Kong vs Godzilla in 2020. If you go to see this movie with the right frame of mind, there is a good chance you will have a helluva time.
• I’m not sure how a space station is more economical when it comes to hiding your mad science; aren’t there about a half-dozen countries that would look the other way if given enough money?
• Claire Wyden calling giant monsters to her company’s headquarters, while she and her brother are still there, seems about the dumbest thing I’ve seen in quite some time.
• Colonel Blake (Demetrius Grosse) is told Chicago is evacuated, so the military can now proceed on bombing the shit out of the city, but we constantly see troops and civilians running around. Agent Russell has to tell Blake to check his drones and call off the bombing run, which begs the question, “What the fuck were those drones doing during all this carnage? Were they watching a ballgame?”
• The story is played pretty much for laughs, so large scale death and destruction is a little tonally off. We even see George brutally killing quite a few people, some up close and personal, so this makes a happy ending a little far-fetched.