Once upon a time, there were video games, and Hollywood saw them, and saw the money that people spent on them, and thought: “We would like some of this, please.”
So far their efforts have met with… mixed results. For every Resident Evil (only the original one, the less said about the sequels the better) we have an Alone in the Dark. For every Mortal Kombat (which, yes, is a shameless Enter the Dragon rip-off but it’s still a surprisingly entertaining movie which accurately represents the source material) we have a Max Payne.
Onto this stage comes Warner Bros. Entertainment and director Brad Peyton and a cast and crew who seem to have a genuine love for their source material, that being the 1986 game Rampage, which tells the story of three humans mutated into monsters, a wolf, crocodile and gorilla respectively, who then proceed to smash their way through cities, destroying buildings and eating people while the military tries to stop them.
Fast-forward 27 years and now we have the story of primatologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) who has a particularly special bond with an albino gorilla called George. While going about their daily business, nefarious happenings are going on in orbit as a secret space station owned by ‘Stereotypical Evil Company No.02659’ “Energyne” is destroyed by a genetic engineering experiment gone wrong. Three canisters containing the experimental pathogen fall to earth in the aftermath and are discovered by a wolf, a crocodile and George, who all begin to mutate into huge, aggressive, nigh-indestructible monsters that do what monsters do and begin to kill and destroy everything around them. Davis is joined in his attempts to rescue George and save the day by Agent Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and Doctor Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris).
The creators also managed to slip in some less overt nods and winks to the game beyond just “monsters smashing buildings” – from a classic Rampage video game cabinet in the Energyne office, to George grabbing somebody from a building and eating them, which was one way to regain health in the game. Even the A-10 “Warthog” planes sent to attack the monsters are a throwback to the games, showing up in certain versions of them. There’s even a nod to the woman in the red dress from the original arcade game but we won’t go into too many details about that here to save the surprise.
Before moving on to discuss the pros and cons, special mention must be given to the sheer amount of not just violence, but bloody, gory violence crammed into what is ostensibly a movie that kids younger than 12 can go and see. The opening moments of the film contain severed limbs, floating corpses, blood and people getting blown up. Throughout the entire running time people are crushed, eaten, mauled and otherwise removed from life in all manner of monstrous ways which was genuinely surprising to see in a film with this rating. While there’s no blood spraying everywhere, there is still plenty of violence on display so this could be something for parents to bear in mind before they allow particularly small children to see this. A lot of people die and our monsters are truly monstrous.
The story of Rampage is serviceable, but thoroughly cliched. Energyne’s motives for wanting to create giant, rampaging monsters is never entirely clear though it’s also clear that this was exactly what they intended to do and it wasn’t some accident or unforeseen consequence of their tampering. It’s just never explained why on earth anyone thought this was in any way a good idea. At all. At least Weyland-Yutani was always very clear in its motivations towards the Alien while Energyne never seemed to have a clear plan beyond “create giant, rampaging, unkillable death beast”.
The acting is solid, with Dwayne Johnson turning in another solid performance and Jeffrey Dean Morgan glorying in his swaggering, Old-West cowboy portrayal of Agent Russell. Particular praise has to be given to the visual effects in this film, with George coming across as an entirely believable, well-rounded character that you genuinely laugh and empathise with. The action is brisk, and while it takes a while to get into proper city-smashing mode, once it does you have barely a moment to breathe until the film ends.
It is something of a shame the special features on offer are so weak on this particular DVD release, which includes only a single six minute featurette “Not A Game Anymore” which shows the true love and enthusiasm the cast and crew had when it came to Rampage, with Dwayne Johnson admitting to spending many days in the arcade playing it. There are more special features available on the Blu-Ray/4K releases.
Of all the video-game based movies, Rampage is definitely the most enjoyable while still being mostly true to the source material and currently stands as the highest-reviewed movie based on a game on Rotten Tomatoes, a not inconsiderable feat. If you’re a fan of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson or a fan of monster movies as a whole, Rampage is well worth your time.
Rampage is available now digitally, on DVD, 4K Ultra HD and Blu-Ray.