When three different animals become infected with a dangerous pathogen, a primatologist and a geneticist team up to stop them from destroying Chicago. (from IMDB)
When you look at video game properties like Tomb Raider, Uncharted, Halo and maybe even Warcraft, it's understandable to imagine a film based on the characters and story featured within. However, when you have an arcade game like Rampage where you play a monster with the sole purpose of leveling city buildings to the ground, you don't look at it and immediately exclaim "This should be made into a movie!" However, that's precisely what the new action film, Rampage, is.
I'd love to have been in on the discussion when the idea to make Rampage into a feature film. (The initial reactions were probably hysterical!) It's absurd, but if done right, it probably could be a lot of fun, right? After all, who doesn't like a good building-smashing monster movie like Godzilla?
Well, you can't say the film Rampage doesn't try. It opens with a scene set in space with every bit of a setup like it's a horror film. A lone survivor is trying to escape a space station that has been taken over by a mutated animal due to an experiment gone wrong, complete with some gruesome imagery. The film unfolds, setting up the monsters' origins, even giving us cause to sympathize with the gorilla, George. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is established as ex-military who now spends his days at the San Diego zoo working with George and other gorillas. But when George and a few other animals in the area are exposed to the same deadly chemical, they mutate into building-sized monsters who... go on a destructive rampage.
Rampage almost works. Almost. Last year's Kong: Skull Island was a brutal but fun monster movie that never took itself too seriously. It offered an impressive cast and solid effects, with soldiers dropped onto a monster-covered island to fight for their own survival. Rampage acts as a tonal see-saw, veering in opposite directions all too often. Johnson's character Davis Okoye, and Naomie Harris's scientist Kate Caldwell, play their characters relatively serious. Johnson of course presents his character like he's aware he's in a giant monster movie, but it all feels somewhere between the horror-comedy mash-up of The Mummy (1999) and its first sequel, The Mummy Returns, which ratcheted up the ridiculous several notches (and Johnson actually made his film debut in that disappointing sequel). Meanwhile, Malin Ackerman acts alongside Jake Lacy, who appeared as a regular on the final season of The Office, and the pair feel like they've been lifted right out of a Saturday morning cartoon. Lacy, who I really enjoyed in The Office, feels sorely out of place here, and the scenes these two are in make the film feel even more ridiculous than it already is. What makes things weirder is, when the giant wolf is introduced in a scene where it ravages a tactical team, it's presented as pure horror. Hints at far gorier imagery are mixed with pure terror for these characters. This scene, and the movie's opener, are much more intense and scarier than anything else in the movie, and, in the end, it causes the whole of the film to feel inconsistent and sloppy. And it's unfortunate, too, because, if the right balance had been struck, this could have just been pure, ridiculous fun. Rampage just barely misses the mark of achieving that goal, too.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a highlight in the cast, but even his governmental "cowboy" approach isn't quite enough to elevate the film enough. What Rampage probably needed was a lot more solid laughs to keep the audience simultaneously thrilled and amused. On the other hand, endless attempts at humor that just ultimately fall flat would result in something like any of the recent Michael Bay-directed Transformers films (and we really don't need more of that). The barrage of joke misfires there end up doing more harm than good. So while this isn't quite the hot mess that 1998's Godzilla turned out to be, it's just not quite as fun as Pacific Rim (the first one), Kong: Skull Island, or even Johnson's and Rampage director Brad Peyton's other outing together, San Andreas.
The Rampage video game featured three main monsters: a gorilla named George, a wolf named Ralph, and a lizard named Lizzie. When you'd start the game, you'd already be the monster, but when you lose power and "die," you actually reverted back to a naked little human being and sheepishly side-stepped off the screen. You could fight the other monster players, but the goal of the game was to be the monster with the most city-wide destruction before the military could defeat you. The film version features animals who mutate into these monsters, with altered DNA that makes them more aggressive (which is why the friendly George goes rogue). Our film's goofy villains turn their home base into a beacon that calls the monsters to Chicago, where the city-wide destruction takes place. While we've already seen Chicago torn apart by giant alien robots in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Peyton tries to give us a different experience, and succeeds for the most part. There are little references to the game hidden subtly inside the film, but I couldn't help but feel like there were a few missed opportunities -- like mimicking some of the destructive techniques the characters would implement (like jumping up and down on top of a building, or even scaling a building and punching out windows in a way similar to what we see in the game). We get plenty of nonsensical destruction, don't get me wrong, but I couldn't help but expect a few more clever references to live up to the film's namesake.
The content of the film is as messy as the film itself. It's PG-13, but the profanity felt pretty frequent, including over 20 uses of the "S" word, almost 20 uses of "h*ll," and quite a few inexcusable uses of Jesus' name in vain. It really added nothing to the film and really felt gratuitous. George is even shown flipping the middle finger a few times, and inserting his index finger from one hand into a circle made by his fingers on the other hand to make an obvious sexual reference. The violence is what you'd expect, but there was a surprising amount of quick gory moments in the movie. The opening scene in the space craft shows a bloodied human face for a split second, with what looked like something hitting a gored-out eye socket as things floated around. We then see a severed hand floating in the foreground as the lone survivor is trying to escape. Later, we see a bloodied dead bear in the zoo and some bloody wounds on George the gorilla, and when the wolf attacks the tactical team, we see what looks like a body severed in half out of focus in the foreground for another character to see in full. We also see split-second flashes of other victims that are too quick to really see details, but enough to get the idea of what happened. Other scenes show a character with blood on their clothing, especially after being shot, a lot of blood splatter onto glass when a character is squashed by debris, and some gory moments with the monsters getting dismembered or impaled on things.
Rampage probably isn't nearly as sloppily executed as I'm making it sound. In trying to decide how I feel about the film, it's tough to make a firm assessment. I enjoy a good, silly, fun destruction / monster film that doesn't take itself too seriously, but Rampage just falls short of whatever it is that strikes the right chord with this viewer. The content alone is enough to warrant caution and discernment, but overall, if you don't mind a stupid, nonsensical yet entertaining time at the movies, Rampage fits the bill.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 4/18/18)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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