Directed by Brad Peyton.
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, P.J. Byrne, Marley Shelton, Breanne Hill, Jack Quaid, Matt Gerald, Jason Liles, Demetrius Grosse, and Will Yun Lee.
Primatologist Davis Okoye shares an unshakable bond with George, the extraordinarily intelligent gorilla who has been in his care since birth. But a rogue genetic experiment gone awry transforms this gentle ape into a raging monster. As these newly created monsters tear across North America, destroying everything in their path, Okoye teams with a discredited genetic engineer to secure an antidote, fighting his way through an ever-changing battlefield, not only to halt a global catastrophe but to save the fearsome creature that was once his friend.
There is an important distinction worth noticing in the ending credits of Rampage, and it reads “inspired by the video game” rather than outright basing it off of the source material. Similarly, there is no official recognition given to the developers behind the games, but that could also be because the studio is probably now defunct. Director Brad Peyton (and his team of five different writers) is reunited with his San Andreas lead Dwayne Johnson to adapt this property that, by the way, likely no gamer has ever thought out loud would make for a good movie/Hollywood blockbuster, and that’s what Rampage feels like for most of its duration; another vehicle for The Rock to evoke classic action star machismo and tear shit up. That is until the final act, which reveals that someone high up in the filmmaking process has actually played the games; there is fan service all over the place including destructive animations ripped right from the 2-D sprites now accomplished with modern-day CGI. Anyone that has ever played a Rampage game is going to smile a lot watching Chicago get leveled.
The problem is that Rampage falls into the traps many movies involving giant monsters either causing chaos or duking it out can never seem to avoid; there is so much focus on human characters amounting to little worthwhile overall. George (the famous gorilla from the games, here depicted as an Albino silverback) is under the affectionate care from David Okoye (Dwayne Johnson), a primatologist working in the San Diego wildlife preservation until the leftovers of a genetic experiment in space gone wrong crash land into three different parts of America. The surrounding toxins force the animals (a wolf and a lizard in addition to George) to grow at alarming rates reaching unprecedented sizes (how often do you see anyone tower over The Rock) and become irrationally and uncontrollably violent. They also are granted enhanced speed and agility.
Yet it takes an entire two-thirds of the experience to reach the citywide annihilation that anyone buying a ticket to Rampage wants. There are also parts taken far too seriously; the bond that David and George have is a humorously charming one, but flashbacks to his tragic past are out of place and only slightly expand on David’s character. He’s an animal person that views all humans as selfish individuals willing to go to any rotten length necessary to get what they desire, which is fine, but again, these are games that virtually had no story. The frustratingly amusing part of all of this is that typically movies based on video games catastrophically fail at transforming to another entertainment medium, whereas here the filmmakers appear to be staunchly against embracing what Rampage is until the final 40 minutes.
The proceedings are bogged down with scenes depicting worthless and boring sibling CEOs of a nefarious company fixated on using the genetic research to create weapons they can sell to the government (Jake Lacy and Malin Akerman working with opposite personalities where the brother is dimwitted comical relief while the sister is ruthlessly about turning a profit with the experiments), a disgraced former employee of that same company (Naomie Harris), and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a scenery chewing military persona presented like a cowboy with the actor seemingly being the only one aware of how ridiculous this all is. Rampage begins with a scientist dying as sacrificial music plays over it; there is no context to anything, we’re just supposed to care.
Brad Peyton does try a few interesting things to generate excitement before the three beasts triangulate for cooperative carnage, but they fall flat. One notable segment is reminiscent of the Predator movies with the replacement being a giant wolf hunting down Joe Manganiello’s team of soldiers. Rampage is so stuffed with superfluous material to round out the running time as a feature-length film to the point where jaded viewers still might not care when the action is delivered in spades.
Also, as someone that has played the games extensively throughout childhood, disappointment looms in every single scene with these genetic mutations as for whatever reason, the direction here is gritty and dark with a muted color palette. The games are an absolute 180, boasting colorful sprites and a cartoonish style that goes well with the fact that the player is taking control of monsters going on a world tour of destruction. Anyone, whether it be humans or the military trying to put them down is the antagonist, which is honestly how the movie should have been. This can be felt sporadically throughout the climactic sequence of destruction (along with tons of references to the games), but not enough. If anything, it serves as a reminder of how awesome Rampage could have been under a less serious direction and a more vibrant color palette, especially factoring in that the cinematography behind the ground pounding, car smashing, and building punching antics all look great; when the view is slowly panned back to track the beasts in the same shot it’s a beautiful sight.
At the end of the day, the misfire that is Rampage barely stings; it was always a terrible idea as far as video game adaptations go. The entertainment medium has a vast library of great stories to tell, so choose them, even if they will likely be assigned to a filmmaking team that has no idea what to do with it. Oddly enough, The Rock has starred in two different movies based on gaming franchises (Doom being the other) and only in the final moments of both things begin to click. If only someone requested that more of Rampage be like the actual fun part, then we may have had a highly entertaining dumb-fun blockbuster. Still, all movies focusing on large creatures wrecking havoc need to understand that no one is coming for a plot centered on humans.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com