TL;DR – Rampage knows what it is and leans into it hard, with giant monsters crashing into buildings and Dwayne Johnson being his charismatic best
Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Now, this is the point at the start of the review where I talk about how there has never been a great movie adaption of a video game so far, and I talk about the problems about adapting and trot out examples like Assassin’s Creed (see review) and Tomb Raider (see review). However, this time around I don’t think I have to do that because while this is by no means a masterpiece I think it is the first film to really crack that adaption puzzle or at least the one who has got the closest to it. With that in mind, today we are going to enter the realm of giant monsters crashing into buildings, and who doesn’t love a giant monsters crashing into buildings.
So to set the scene, we open on the Athena-1, a space station orbiting the Earth and it is clear from the first frame that something is very, very wrong. When we get inside we discover that the crew have been killed and the space station has been ripped apart. The only one left alive is Dr Kerry Atkins (Marley Shelton) who is not allowed to use the escape pod until she has secured the science samples that Claire (Malin Åkerman) and Brett (Jake Lacy) Whyden have been working on for their company Energyne. Well, Atkins escapes the station after being hunted by the thing that killed everyone else only to have her escape pod fail on re-entry. Meanwhile, we have been introduced to Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) who is a primatologist, the head of the primate centre at San Diego Zoo, also a former anti-poacher hunter, and also a former US Army Special Forces soldier. He works mostly with gorillas and has a special bond with George (Jason Liles) an albino gorilla who Davis rescued as an infant and has taught sign-language to. Well, some of the samples from the exploded escape pod survived re-entry and one of them crash lands in George’s enclosure when he investigates he gets sprayed in a green fog. The two other canisters crash land in Wyoming and the Florida Everglades, and the next day Davis finds out that something is very wrong with his friend. Now before we move on, because of the big third act of this film it is a bit hard to talk about some of the things that happen without hitting [SPOILERS] so just a warning here that there may be some incoming.
One of the first thing you notice when watching Rampage is what a great rapport Davis has with George. Now of course part of this is due to Dwayne Johnson’s sheer on-screen chemistry, I mean the man can smoulder on cue. However, you have to also give props to the writing, the motion-capture work of Jason Liles, and of course the digital wizards of Weta that make George feel like a real character in the film. Now yes some of the writing in the film is well not great, however, there are several really funny moments between Davis and George, and not all of them have been spoiled in the trailer.
Now I said from the start that this might be one of the best video games adaptations that we have seen so far, so I wanted to take a moment to look at that. The original game the film is based on Rampage is an old arcade game, I mean it is almost as old as me, and the young people around me regularly remind me that I am ancient. You play as one of the three monsters that also appear in this film and your aim is to destroy the city, eat the people, and avoid the military trying to take you down. The first big change between the game and the film is that in the game it is mutated people, while here in the film it is the much more believable animals that get mutated. I think one of the reasons why this really works as a good video game adaptation is that there really is no significant story from the original game. So what the film has done is lift the ‘giant mutated monsters destroying cities’ from the game and attached their own story to it, and it kind of works.
Also, Rampage is perfectly ok with being just brutal at times, introducing characters that you think will be a big deal only to mercilessly kill them off via giant monster. Indeed the way some of the characters are killed is actually quite confronting, to the point I would not take young people to go see the film. All of this is wonderfully rendered in CGI, with some really interesting character design, though it is odd that George just gets big while the others get big but also mutate. The action is all well filmed taking clear inspiration from films like Jurassic World (see review) and King Kong (see review), I’m going to fall on the side of homage here, but maybe it is a little too close to be a homage. It is also interesting to see that it has taken 17 years but that institutional aversion to watching skyscrapers crash in slow motion has gone, though that is still a little odd to see for me.
While it is a good film, not everything works and there are some things that do feel like they just took the lazy options. For example, let’s list of the key bad guys in this film, we have poachers, private military contractors, and evil white mostly incompetent corporate elites looking to profit from destruction, oh my. It is like they went through a list of who was universally disliked and just ran with the top three choices. Also, there are some weird moments throughout the film, like when they have a heart to heart chat in the wreckage of a crashed plane. So they would be standing around the decaying bodies of all the dead crew as well as all the noxious chemicals spilt on impact and what every nasty stuff that is in the smoke, chatting like it was all normal. Also, just a small thing but a MOAB would actually be dropped from a C-130 Hercules cargo plane rather than a B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, because the bomb weighs over 9,000kgs (21,000lbs) and also what radar are you trying to hid from here.
In the end, do we recommend Rampage? Well yes, overall we do. It is a good action film, it has a strong lead, and you will get the see giant monster demolishing a city. It is also one of, if not the, best video game adaptation to date, but it kind of gets that way by stripping everything from the game bare the core concept, which is both interesting but also probably the direction we are heading with video game adaptions until someone can work out how to do a proper story.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Rampage
Directed by – Brad Peyton
Story by – Ryan Engle
Screenplay by – Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal & Adam Sztykiel
Based on – Rampage by Midway Games
Music by – Andrew Lockington
Cinematography by – Jaron Presant
Edited by – Jim May & Bob Ducsay
Starring – Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Åkerman, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello, Marley Shelton, P. J. Byrne, Demetrius Grosse, Jack Quaid, Breanne Hill, Matt Gerald, Will Yun Lee & Jason Liles
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: 14A; Germany: na; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: PG-13