Another month, another Hollywood blockbuster about giant monsters going apeshit on urban population centers! If you told me 5+ years ago that Hollywood tentpole movies were going to veer off into kaiju country this consistently I would’ve told you “I wish!” But yet here we are!
Rampage the movie deviates from its inspiration (the 1986 arcade classic of the same name) in big, obvious ways. Gone are the cartoony monsters, replaced with more down-to-earth looking giant animals. The carnage and chaos are still there, but you won’t see Rampage’s big screen monsters eating people off of toilets or flapping their arms to stay airborne like their pixelated predecessors.
Even with these large-scale changes, Rampage the movie still takes the time to pay tribute to the beloved old kaiju-themed quarter muncher while delivering a satisfying and, no shit, surprisingly heartfelt monster mash. It certainly doesn’t hurt that it stars Dwayne The Rock Johnson, one of the most insanely watchable human beings to ever live and a big budget special effect in his own right. HOW does Rampage come out of nowhere and pull all this off? Stack up some quarters and keep reading!
I’m about to go on a rampage (eh? eh? ehhhhhhhh??) of spoilers, so now’s your last chance to back out. Here’s my spoiler-free mini review:
Quick spoiler-free Rampage review: It’s good hokey B-movie fun with a surprisingly big, earnest heart. Lots of fresh, exhilarating monster mayhem that indirectly captures the gleeful chaos of the arcade classic. Corny in a good way, despite (or because) it plays the premise more straight-faced than the source material ever did. The Rock and George’s bromance is legitimately heartfelt and gives you good reason to care about the city-smashing spectacle. Rampage is better than it has any reason to be, and is 2018’s best monster mash so far.
Let’s take a look at some trailers!
The first trailer focuses on The Rock’s character (primatologist Davis Okoye) and his surprisingly tender friendship with George the albino ape before showing us the monsters going apeshit. The fact that they put Davis and George’s friendship front and center surprised the hell out of me: it’s wildly different from what I expected out of a fucking Rampage movie, but it caught my interest and gave me a lot of hope for the film. The fact that they even attempted to give this movie a good-natured emotional core piqued my curiosity.
The second trailer starts with the lighter side of Davis and George’s bromance (and it is definitely a bromance) but doesn’t shy away from Davis’ genuine concern when the albino ape starts mutating. Both trailers serve up equal portions of heart, humor, havoc, and hokey-ness (some of those jokes are solid clunkers, but I appreciate the effort). It’s a B-movie and it’s proud, damn it! I respect the shit out of that.
Andrew Lockington provides the score, and it’s perfectly solid, adequate work. Lockington’s been scoring flicks since the late 90s, and has even worked with The Rock and Rampage director Brad Peyton before on Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and San Andreas. The track below is all I’ve been able to find of the official score:
Oh, and the Kid Cudi track over the end credits was a fun surprise! I’m a sucker for rap and kaiju together, but your mileage may vary: Pacific Rim: Uprising‘s Tupac backlash showed me I might be alone in my monster-rap enthusiasm. The fact that it samples Smashing Pumpkins’ “Bullet with the Butterfly Wings” is the kind of on-the-nose cornballery that is honestly a perfect fit for Rampage:
Other behind-the-camera creatives include the previously mentioned director Brad Peyton and writers Ryan Engle, Adam Szytkiel, Ryan J. Condal, and Carlton Cuse. These were ALL new names for me, though B-Peyts rang a bell. Braddy P is best known for the above mentioned collabos with The Rock, though he also helmed the Cats & Dogs sequel.
Adam and both Ryans don’t have a hell of a lot on their resume, but Carlton Cuse took me by surprise. Cuse made 2010’s Time 100 list for his work on “Lost”, specifically for co-creating the first ARG (alternate reality game) to promote a show and expand its plot through interactive online multimedia. Dude also co-developed Lethal Weapon 2 and 3 along with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, wrote the cult classic series “The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.”, plus other shows like “Bates Motel” and “The Strain”, and he’s developing the upcoming adaptation of the Locke & Key comics for Hulu.
So we’ve got a bunch of new guys, a guy who’s got some experience under his belt but ain’t exactly Spielberg, and Cuse who I would say is low-key Hot Shit™. Let’s pick apart the giant monster movie they made!
The movie opens on a space station. It looks peaceful from afar, but inside an astronaut is frantically floating for her life, chased by a rat with the size and temperament of a pissed-off mountain lion. The station is owned by Energyne, this movie’s OCP or CyberDyne Systems or Weyland-Yutani and like any good, scummy, soulless, multinational mega-corp, they’ve been up to some sheisty bullshit up in space. You know, the kind of sheisty bullshit that results in bloodthirsty, puma-sized lab rats.
Which might be a sly reference to any of the three different playable rat-monsters that popped up in Rampage sequels over the years, but it’s just as likely not.
The astronaut gathers up as many samples of the mutagen as she can carry, makes her way to the escape pod, dodges the feral mutant rat, sparking wires, and drifting corpses of her eviscerated colleagues, and she just barely manages to eject from the station before it explodes! …But a hairline fracture in the escape pod’s porthole spells her fiery doom upon re-entry. It’s an exciting, surprisingly scary way to kick off the movie. It also lets you know that yes, they will be playing their wacky b-movie premise straight-faced as fuck.
The mutagen samples scatter across the US (guess they should have made the escape pod out of whatever the mutagen canisters are made out of!). One lands in Wyoming, one in the Everglades, and one in the gorilla habitat of a San Diego wildlife preserve. UH OH.
Before George stumbles onto the canister of mutagen and Kongs out, we get some time with him, Davis, and a few other primatologists at the wildlife preserve. A bunch of the jokes work, a few are stinkers, but most importantly it does a great job of establishing Davis and George’s good-naturedly jokey bromance (George likes to flip Davis the bird, which could be a stealth nod to a similar gag in A*P*E?) and their genuine love, concern, and respect for each other. I didn’t expect this dynamic to exist let alone work. But it does work, and ends up being the heart of the movie.
I’m not saying The Rock is the next Meryl Streep, but he plays the part with total conviction and makes you believe he is deeply concerned about the well-being of a CGI gorilla. It doesn’t hurt that said CGI gorilla 1. Looks great and 2. Is also well-acted. George’s motion capture work was performed by Jason Liles, who was another new name for me. He’s probably a new name for you too, since he’s an up-and-coming creature actor whose biggest gig pre-Rampage was playing several different aliens in Men in Black III uncredited.
Davis is called in early the next day with an emergency: George is missing from his enclosure, and something broke into the grizzly bear enclosure and brutally killed its occupant. All signs point to George as the culprit, despite the fact that grizzly bears are nearly twice the size of silverback gorillas.
George has doubled in size, is hurt, and is terrified. I cannot fucking believe that the movie adaptation of Rampage manages to get me a lil’ misty every now and then, but it does! Davis is bewildered by this sudden mutation, but manages to calm George down enough to get him into quarantine. With George contained and undergoing tests, Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris, Moonlight, Spectre) visits Davis and his crew to tell them about the top-secret genetic editing project she was working on with Energyne.
Kate got fired and spent two years in prison when she tried to blow the whistle on Energyne: their genetic editing biz wasn’t being developed as a wonder cure, but as a biological weapon. The type of biological weapon that would, say, make a normally docile ape huge and pissed off. While Kate tries to catch Davis up on the source of George’s sudden growth spurt, George has gotten even bigger and spectacularly bashes his way out of captivity.
Harambe gags never tickled my funny bone, but it’s hard not to think of that whole shitstorm when George breaks out and starts rampaging (EH?) through the tourists. It’s fun, cathartic chaos delivered at just the right time, and it’s dramatically cut short when the cops show up.
Davis catches up with his furry friend and does his best to defuse the situation: it results in George living to fight another day, but he does get captured by mysterious, foreboding government goons. Chief among them is Agent Harvey Russell, the sentient stetson I mentioned earlier.
With George contained by a ridiculous, over-the-top government agent, we get a moment with our even ridiculous-er, over-the-top-er human villains: Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman, Watchmen) and her dopey brother Brett (Jake Lacy, an upcoming Johnny English sequel). They’re the (human) two-headed monster at the top of Energyne… literally! Their HQ is a sleek, high-tech penthouse at the top of Willis Tower in Chicago (which includes a plainly-visible Rampage arcade cabinet?!). Their cartoonish villainy feels like a conscious throwback to ScumLabs, the unrepentantly evil corporation players are up against in the later Rampage games.
The Wyden siblings have deployed a bad-ass team of mercenaries to contain Ralph, the gigantic, mutated wolf prowling around the forests of Wyoming. The movie pulls an exciting little bait and switch on us: these mercs are led by Burke, played by Joe Manganiello. Joe’s not like a household name/A-lister, but he’s recognizable (True Blood fans will know him as Alcide Herveaux, which is apparently a series of sounds that human beings can produce) and had a nice chunk of screen time in the trailer. Two things that made me go “Surely this guy isn’t cannon fodder!” We even get a brief moment with his team, and they have distinct looks and enough banter to also make me go “These guys probably aren’t all cannon fodder either!”
Burke and his guys all get their shit pushed in sideways and it is exciting, spooky fun. The flipside is that it’s not terribly original: how many times have we seen a team of commandos with head-cams and heart monitors get picked off by vicious, stealthy monsters since Aliens back in ’86? Even Ralph launching himself at the chopper feels like it’s borrowing from Kong: Skull Island.
Said borrowing is done so competently and entertainingly that it never bothers me. It’s blood-pumping action that effectively makes Ralph look like a bad-ass! Because he is! Now that just about everything has gone fully tits-up at Energyne, Claire goes into full evil overdrive and flips on the mega-transmitter designed to:
- Keep their mutant monsters SOUPER pissed
- Draw them to Chicago ASAP
This way they can recover and subdue Ralph, and use George to kill that pesky Kate before she can go blabbin’ her gabbers all over town about Energyne’s dirty deeds! Why would George kill Kate? Because Agent Russell has them both contained on an airplane.
It’s another satisfying, frantic melee as special operatives spectacularly fail to take down George while Davis and Kate frantically slap together some semblance of a plan to keep them from becoming pavement-lasagna when the plane inevitably goes down. They even manage to (begrudgingly) save Agent Russell with some lucky parachutesmanship!
George survives the fall too (because fuck yeah giant monsters!), but the transmitter’s still got control of the albino ape, so he rushes off towards Chicago. George actually meets up with Ralph and no shit they become bash brothers as they stomp their way towards the Windy City. Their co-op chaos is totally awesome and it’s the first moment where the movie really feels like the source material.
Kate, Davis, and Agent Russell hobble to the nearest military installation. They get intel about George and Ralph becoming demolition BFFs, so Russell tries to convince the army to listen to Kate and Davis’ input, but the big brass have a bug up their butts and want to do things “by the book.” After everything that’s gone down, Russell knows that Kate and Davis are on the right track, so he gives them the opening they need to steal a helicopter.
Wait, helicopter?! Turns out Davis isn’t just a primatologist, dude is ex-special forces and used to head up an anti-poaching unit out of Rwanda. This late-stage backstory succinctly explains his ability to pilot a chopper, the source of his bond with George, and his insanely jacked build. Unfortunately it does not get them caught up with George and Ralph any quicker.
George and Ralph just go buck wild on Chi-Town, and it is delish.
Except it’s sad too! We know George is a good boy, we know that he’s not normally like this. Davis’ genuine concern for his fucked-up friend actually manages to ground the action. The spectacle is no less thrilling, but it has surprisingly human stakes too. The military can’t keep up with these two, so guess how things go when Player 3 rolls up!
Davis’ earnest-yet-deadpan “That sucks,” when he first sees Lizzie is gold. Lizzie’s really only been hinted at up until this point, and it’s because she is by far the biggest and baddest out of the three monsters. It’s a pretty big departure from the games (where all three are roughly the same size), but it does a great job of raising the stakes for the film’s final act. Her entrance is fantastic, she is totally fucking bad-ass, and like Ralph she’s mutated into something more interesting than just a big-ass animal:
Lizzie spectacularly erupts out of the Chicago River and helps her (only comparatively) little buddies uh aggressively renovate downtown. Even with the emotional baggage of “Oh my god what’s wrong with George?!” this also nails the gleefully chaotic tone of the classic game: especially when all three monsters start scaling Willis Tower (it feels so weird not calling it the Sears Tower! Yes I know it’s almost been a decade…) to destroy the transmitter that’s driving them all bonkers. Amid the mayhem, Kate and Davis scramble up Willis Tower (from the inside!) to bust into Energyne’s labs and steal the antidote! Antidote?
“For the mutagen you just drank, George!”
Unfortunately our scenery-chomping villains get the drop on Kate and Davis. Claire holds our heroes at gunpoint and reveals that the antidote can only switch off the super-aggression: there’s no cure for the other mutations, including the hyper bigness. Claire tries to escape in the chopper that’s waiting for her on the roof, but George is already there, fuckin’ shit up!
Kate slips the antidote into Claire’s handbag and decks her, sending her staggering towards George who grabs her and gulps her down without hesitation! It’s violent, cathartic, funny, and the most direct and satisfying callback to the original game.
Making Rampage’s most iconic and gruesome power-up into the main villain is… kind of genius!? George eating her is awesome, but it also serves the story: by munching Malin, he’s also ingested the antidote! …But the antidote doesn’t really matter as long as the transmitter is pumping out “go crazy” signals to our trio of terrible titans! Ralph and Lizzie quickly catch up with their simian sidekick and finish tearing down the transmitter tower!
The monsters mash the antenna, finally bringing George back to normal. Of course Willis Tower can’t sustain all this ruckus and starts collapsing… with all three monsters and both of our human heroes trapped at the top! “Riding” the building down is pure, exhilarating, action movie insanity, and is yet another moment that really feels like the Rampage games, even if it doesn’t aesthetically resemble them.
With our monsters and heroes back on the ground, it’s time to button up all this kaiju kraziness! The military is getting ready to bomb the bejeezus out of everything in a ten-block radius, but since there are shitloads of people that weren’t able to be evacuate, Kate hauls ass to try and stop that from happening. Agent Russell rolls up just in time to con dumb ol’ Brett out of his laptop (and lab rat that he carries around constantly?!). I say “just in time” because he does this right before Brett steps outside and is brutally, hilariously splattered by
karma some falling rubble. While all this goes down, George and Davis share some laughs and some famous Chicago-style hot dogs.
All three monsters turning on each other after bringing down a skyscraper is another moment that feels pulled straight out of a game of Rampage played with friends (or in this case newly-minted frenemies!). The Rampage games absolutely include friendly fire, and an accidental or “accidental” jab could turn a cooperative game into a monster’s brawl. George and Davis team up to put down Ralph and Lizzie, and again their bond brings drama to the table that keeps this super-sized smackdown engaging.
Davis does his best to provide back up for George, mostly in the form of scavenging and unloading high-powered ballistics on Ralph and Lizzie. Davis and George manage to trick Ralph into flying into Lizzie’s gaping maw (decapitating the dire dog), but Lizzie….
George and Lizzie have a knock-down, drag-out rumble that gets ugly and brutal pretty quick. George’s status as a beloved friend makes this way more dramatic. Davis commandeers a crashed jet’s guns, Lizzie plays possum to get the drop on George, and the fight doesn’t end until George puts an I-beam through her. Unfortunately he’s not much better off, propped up against a building, bleeding, and barely conscious. When the dust clears, it really looks as though George won’t make it… but then that rascally middle finger pops up again!
It’s a funny, corny call back to George’s mischievous nature and his friendship with Davis. As George gets some strength back he notices Kate too, and he embarrasses her and Davis by interrogating them with an even cruder hand gesture:
It’s a gag that’ll get equal amounts of groans and laughs: I should know, I did both! I give it a pass though: it’s the kind of friendly roasting we come to expect from George. We’ve all had a George in our lives at one time or another (usually sometime between middle school and college), so it really just makes their bromance that much more real.
And that’s Rampage! It’s a lot better than I expected it to be!
Sidebar: The Japanese posters for Rampage are SICK.
Fun fact: The weird Jeep thing that Davis drives around is actually a 2004 Ford Bronco concept vehicle that was never produced for the public. It’s a design that ultimately lands somewhere between “bold and cool” and “boxy to the point of cartoonishness.”
Filmic trash peddler and dimwitted dildo Uwe Boll got all pissy at Warner Brothers about this movie because he… was convinced they were trying to steer people away from his 2009 film, also called Rampage? I guess? Of course this is just a desperate publicity stunt: there’s no way anybody is going to confuse his Rampage with this one. Boll’s movie glorifies a mass shooter (which, Jesus Christ, man), instead of a loose adaptation of a tongue-in-cheek kaiju-themed arcade game from 1986. Boll’s a one-man cinematic turd factory (to the point where I’m pretty sure his career is actually a The Producers-style tax scam) and a bully to boot (he offers to box his most vocal and out of shape critics, claims it’s a jokey publicity stunt, then actually beats the shit out of them), so I was reluctant to even mention his sad attention-grab here, but it’s all so deeply stupid I felt it warranted a mention.
According to Rotten Tomatoes, Rampage is the best-reviewed video game movie of all time! That’s pretty faint praise considering the competition, but a quick glance does show Rampage (relatively) blowing them out of the water:
Funnily enough, said competition includes output from The Rock and Uwe Boll!
Middling critical reception aside, audiences gobbled it up! It was #1 at the box office opening weekend (falling behind John Krasinski’s high concept chiller A Quiet Place the following week) and holds an 82% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. Rampage thankfully doesn’t waste any of its running time trying to set up sequels or a shared universe with Spy Hunter or what-the-fuck-ever (actually that Spy Hunter thing sounds kind of awesome…), but with a decent run at the box office, The Rock and director Peyton are both open to the idea of a sequel.
Rampage isn’t particularly faithful to the specifics of its source material, but in a general, oblique way it captures the chaotic fun, corny humor, and anything-goes mayhem of its namesake(s) and injects it all with a surprising amount of genuine heart. Do I wish The Rock got huge and powerbombed giant monsters? Of course I do, everybody does. If anyone tells you otherwise they are fucking liars. Sticking closer to the source material could have given us a wild, comedic reversal on Pacific Rim‘s formula: a movie where average schmucks mutate into mega-monsters and stomp across the country gleefully trashing a corrupt super-corp. But I’m not going to lament the movie we didn’t get when the one we got instead ended up being pretty damn good on its own, surprising terms.