Our favorite arcade game from 1986 finally has its own film, starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson! Come inside to see if the Rampage movie does the video game justice in our official review!
Making Nature Conservations Explosive
A few years ago, scientists began experimenting with a genetic editing drug called CRISPR. This drug could alter the DNA of whatever was infected by it, allowing them grow 10 times their normal size, form gills, create porcupine hair, etc. However, the experiment went horribly wrong and the patients began showing signs of extreme aggression, so the project was scrapped. Except, as it happens, it wasn’t. When 3 containers of the drug get out, they affect the DNA of a Crocodile, a Wolf, and an Albino Gorilla named George that just so happens to be Davis Okoye a.k.a. Dwayne Johnson a.k.a. The Rock’s friend. After George escapes, it’s up to Okoye and Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), who know the drug better than anyone, to stop it.
This entire plot was loosely based on the 1986 Rampage video game, we all played in the arcade. What’s different between the two is that the upgraded animals were actually humans who were experimented on in the video game. For the film, they decided instead to have each container conveniently hit nature preserves across the US, because...animals are there? It makes sense like when someone goes to the gym in Crocs. You understand the need to protect your feet, but it’s just an odd choice.
The film, itself, is your standard action movie where something threatens something that’s personal to the main character, which forces him to rise up and take action. In this, Johnson plays Okoye, a Primatologist that rescued George from poaches who just so happens to be ex-Army Special Forces to give him the convenient excuse for why he knows how to fight/fire a weapon/fly a helicopter. While that revelation may be one of the most groan-worthy moments of the film, there surprisingly aren’t that many.
Instead, Rampage uses the one thing that most filmgoers have experienced since they were kids to pull everything together. They give us an “evil villain” to pull the strings. How was CRISPR invented? Evil Villain. How did it end up affecting these animals? Evil Villain. Why do they all converge on Chicago? Evil Villain. I’m sure to most that sounds pretty groan-worthy, but by muting the villains, it allows the direction to make sense. Although, that doesn’t mean that the villains are any good.
A Cast Living in George’s Shadow
The biggest issue that affects Rampage stems from its lack of character development. With the exception of Dwayne Johnson’s Okoye, who could also be considered one-note if not for the whole special forces thing, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Harvey Russell, the whole cast of Rampage just feels lacking.
For starters, Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy play as the brother-sister villainous combo pack of Claire and Brett Wyden. These two are your modern day Dr. Frankenstein and Igor, with Akerman playing the former. Claire has all the smarts, the focus, and the plan she’d like to see out to fruition, selling CRISPR to the highest bidder and making millions for the Wyden company. Contrastly, Brett is her goofy brother that freaks out over everything and follows Claire’s every word. It’s easier to find him with some sort of food in his hand than a spine in his back. While Rampage is about the monsters attacking Chicago, I felt like the villains could’ve been eliminated altogether and people wouldn’t have noticed, that’s how forgettable they were. They only served to give the plot an excuse, which is pretty disappointing.
Furthermore, Rampage is home to one of the most useless and forgettable performances by Joe Manganiello. The Wyden siblings hire Manganiello to help take down one of the animals and he fails miserably. It felt like such a waste to have this big star just come in for one segment. I would have rathered he turned into Ralph the Wolf, at least that would’ve made a ton more sense.
As for Naomie Harris’ Dr. Kate Caldwell, she too felt a bit one-note, at times, but they at least explored her motivations. She has nothing but hate for the Wyden family and what they did to her research and her brother. Caldwell is the reason why they’re able to ultimately figure out what to do, but the problem was that she just wasn’t that memorable. I didn’t loath her performance but I can’t laud it so she goes into the OK category.
While those are the bad characters, Rampage does have its fair share of enjoyable ones as well. The previously aforementioned Okoye character that Johnson plays is one of them. I can spend all day knocking how unrealistic the character is, but I figure that speaks for itself. Instead, I will say that I did genuinely enjoy Johnson’s performance. He has become one of the more enjoyable actors to watch, even if they tend to follow the same pattern.
Another human character I enjoyed was Harvey Russell, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Much like Dwayne Johnson’s character, it has more to do with Morgan’s delivery than it does the actual character. Russell is a member of the government that is trying to save the world from these monsters, but is in way over his head. Thankfully, because he has the cojones of his The Walking Dead counterpart, he’s not willing to admit it and thing go horribly wrong. Despite that, he’s all about “A-holes having the back of other A-holes” and you have to love him because of that.
For me, the best character of the film was a primeape that wasn’t played by Andy Serkis. That’s right. George the Gorilla is actually the best character in the Rampage film. One of the best parts of the entire film was that director Brad Peyton took the time to really show how expressive George is. He’s funny, emotional, caring, and strong when he needs to be. By giving us a chance to understand this gorilla, we became emotionally attached to his plight when under the CRISPR. From top to bottom, George the Albino Gorilla was the best part of Rampage.
Brilliant Special Effects
It certainly is amazing to see how far visual effects have come in such a short amount of time. It wasn’t all that long ago that filmmakers were forced to create their worlds with animatronics and well shot scenes. Nowadays, films like those have become a novelty, as technology has advanced. Rampage exemplifies those technical innovations by bringing us giant creatures that look realistic, for the most part. Granted, it’s hard to fathom what a colossal crocodile would look like, but I thought it was well done.
I especially thought very highly of the effects of George. They created an entire CGI gorilla with expressions and knowledge of sign language that was pretty wonderful. There is one moment when George is trying to sign with Okoye so he nudges his arm but his sleeve doesn’t move that was alarming, but that was the one time. The rest of the time, the special effects team was on point with the animals.
Another positive point about the special effects has to do with the lasting damage they showed. While I thought the film was jarring at times with how they skipped around in the plot, the special effects made up for it by showing the destructive path that these monsters were laying and maintaining it throughout. I can’t overstate it enough that Continuity is key to a good movie and the Rampage effects team proved that to be true.
A Fun Popcorn Flick That Doesn’t Help the Trend of Weak Video Game Adaptations
It’s no secret that video games have found life hard on the big screen. With games able to spend hours of world-building to craft a story, movies are limited by a run time. For Rampage, it isn’t able to buck the trend what with a flawed plot and weak characters. I would’ve much rathered the original story for Rampage, but this is a decent second place.
The fact of the matter remains that despite its flaws, Rampage is a true-to-form popcorn flick. That means that, even though the plot and the characters are weak, that’s part of the price of admission when you watch an action flick like this. Most of the time, these films are meant to enjoy the audience, not get them thinking about life and the dichotomy of good and evil. If you can get passed all the issues and forget the original story for the video game, you’ll find a film that’s just fun to watch and say “WHOA” to.