Rampage (2018) Review
BIG MEETS MINDLESSLY DUMB FUN
It’s almost commonplace to say that video games have evolved with the changing of times and the new generation of gamers that play them. However, adapting video games into feature length movies has been always being a bumpy road, plague with multiple reasons that make the film itself falter from being truly great cinematic representation of its source material. Some of have called it the “video game movie curse”, suggesting that any feature of which is adapted from a video game is doomed right from the start and it’s been an ongoing continuation with every new video game movie release. Looking back there has been many popular video games that have been adapted to the big screen, including Nintendo’s classic Super Mario Bros (1993’s Super Mario Bros.), Capcom’s survival horror Resident Evil (2002-2016’s Resident Evil series), Blizzard’s fantasy strategy Warcraft (2016’s Warcraft or Warcraft: The Beginning in international territories), Core Design / Square Enix’s action adventure platforming Tomb Raider (2001-2018’s Tomb Raider films series), Ubisoft’s time-traveling action adventures Assassin’s Creed (2016’s Assassin’s Creed), Square Enix’s immersive JRPG Final Fantasy (2001, 2005, and 2016’s Final Fantasy movies), and many others. There are multiple reasons as to why these features mostly fail and / or don’t fully pan out with critics and moviegoers with different variations and reasons behind each one. Whether too gimmicky, lack of characterization, too much exposition plot, too much world-building, or even completely changing everything to make the film almost unrecognizable to its video game counterpoint. Regardless, movies based on video games are still being produced, with each one trying to break the infamous “video game movie curse” and appeal to both its fans and to general moviegoers everywhere. Now, Warner Bros. Pictures / New Line Cinema and director Brad Peyton give the classic Midway Games arcade game a cinematic representation with the film Rampage. Does this movie finally break the curse on video game adaptations or is it just a mindless and dumb endeavor?
After years of service in the military and his time leading an anti-poaching unit, ex-special forces Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) is a primatologist at the San Diego wildlife preserve who prefers the company of animals, spending most of his days training new recruits and caring for the park’s gorillas, including George, a rare albino silverback gorilla whom Davis rescued as an infant and taught sign language to. The bond with Davis and George is strong, but everything changes one night when George is exposed to a strange chemical from a canister that suddenly crashed down at the preserve, causing unexpected symptoms rapid growth and rage aggression. Desperate wanting to help his friend before the government takes him away or kills him, Davis finds an unexpected ally in Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), a genetic engineer who claims to know what happened to George and how to cure his condition. However, before anything can be done to help, George escapes and draws the attention of not only the authorities, including OGA government official Harvey Russell (Jeffery Dean Morgan) as well as minds behind the secret operation known as “Project Rampage” Claire and Brett Wyden (Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy). Unfortunately, the situation gets only worse as George wasn’t the only animal that was infected by this “unknown” pathogen, with a giant grey wolf and monstrous crocodile leaving chaos and destruction in their wake.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I’ve stated previously in some of my blog review posts, I’ve been a fan of video games (more so a casual gamer than a hardcore one). To be sure, I’m more of a fan of the older games (not so much the latest and greatest) like The Legend of Zelda (Ocarina is my fav), Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and the original three Uncharted games just to name a few. As I mentioned above, movies that are based on video games are usually hit or miss. To be sure, not many reaches critical level of being universally acclaim for their cinematic representation and / or achievements, but they are a few that have been none the less. Like I said, the whole “curse” aspect of video game movies can play a contributing factor in the overall film. I mean look at 2001’s Final Fantasy: The Spirt Within, which has little to do with the Square Enix JRPG video game series other than having the creative minds working on the project, or 1991’s Super Mario Bros, which completely ruined the concept of the Nintendo classic video game (a move that prevented Nintendo from cinematically adapting one of their properties into a feature film ever again) or even 2016’s Assassins Creed, which was very much in-love with its own muddled / over-plotted film story to be as immersive as the video game counterpoints. There have been a few that got more right than wrong (see Warcraft or 2018’s Tomb Raider), but the road for video game movies (and breaking their so-called curse) has been a long and bumpy one.
Which brings me back around to talking about Rampage, the latest iteration endeavor of a film based on a video game. Like many, I do remember playing the original arcade game of Rampage and found it amusing, letting the classic button mashing experience of destroying buildings and the like via playable giant monsters. For it’s time, it was good as an arcade video game, along side Mortal Kombat, Pac-Man, and Gauntlet: Dark Legacy as some of my favorites. When I first heard that there was going to be a Rampage movie, I (like many out there) was extremely skeptical about it, especially filling out the length of a feature film. Of course, hearing that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson being attached to the project peaked my interesting, especially since Johnson has grown in popularity in the last few years. I did see Rampage’s two trailers and they really did little to excite me. Of course, they showcased the film’s mayhem and destruction (in the spirt of the game), but it just seemed like a vague premise for a motion picture. Still, I hoping for a good giant monster movie of it and decided to take my chance and see Rampage. What did I think of it? Well, to be honest, it wasn’t good. Despite a giant monster romp premise and very recognizable cast, Rampage ends up being one of those bad messy blockbusters (loud and noisy) with a shell of a story and flat characters. There’s some fun to it, but the movie itself should’ve never been made.
Rampage is directed by Brady Peyton, whose previous directorial works includes films like Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, San Andreas, and Incarnate. True to the spirt of giant monster flicks of old and to the film’s marketing campaign, Peyton’s approach to Rampage is something of a kitschy and overall “go big or go home” type of bravado that permeates the entire feature from start to finish. What do I mean? Well, much like what the film has been promised, Peyton makes Rampage self-aware on how silly it’s premise is, never taking its central essence too seriously, and is more action oriented / driven than being overly dramatic. Peyton also does a decent job in keeping up the film’s pace as the movie is only one hour then forty-seven minutes long and makes everything build to a point where big cheesy action sequences and set pieces are the primary focus. As to be expected, Peyton makes the three classic giant monsters from the original arcade game (the gorilla George, the wolf Ralph, and the crocodile Lizzie) be the big centerpieces of the feature, showcasing their mutated size and strength as they wreak havoc and destroy everything in their path. As a whole, Peyton finds a classic rhythm in the tentpoles of similar films (i.e. monster horror, disaster features, and military / action adventures) in making Rampage come to life on the big screen. In a nutshell, if you’re looking for a big and dumb fun giant monster that has a good helping of destruction and rampage from enormous mutated creatures than Rampage might be for you. Again, it’s one of the movies that you’ll either love it or hate instantly. However, those who weren’t taking in by the film’s marketing campaign will probably never ever see this movie.
In the presentation department, Rampage looks and feels like a summer blockbuster endeavor with a lot “bing, bang, boom” exploding at the camera through its physical and visual representation. The movie’s cinematographer Jaron Presant does a good job in capturing some of the film’s most dynamic / dramatic moments with various camera angles of big action scenes, most of which involving George, Ralph, and Lizzie rampaging through highlighted locations. Coinciding with that is the film’s production design by Barry Chusid who does a solid job in creating some of the film’s more physical construct in set layouts and overall design. Perhaps the most crucial part of Rampage’s technical team is the film’s visual team, which brings to life the giant monster trio of George, Ralph, and Lizzie to life, finding each one designed hideous and / or monstrously from their original counterpart (i.e. a gorilla, a wolf, and a crocodile). They might not be the absolute jaw-dropping best visual designs out there, but since Rampage is main focused on them (and their rampaging destruction), its favorable endeavor that helps the film’s positives. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Andrew Lockington, adds a very robust musical tempo to the movie, building upon some of the film’s more quieter moments, but mostly playing up the tension scale for the movie’s more action-packed scenes. All in all, while the film does lack in many areas (more on the below), Rampage’s physical and visual aspects are pretty good. Not great or superb, but still good as an industry standard within the realm of Hollywood blockbusters.
Unfortunately, despite the film’s blockbuster aspect and true to its marketing campaign, Rampage is a far cry from being a high valued entertainment piece feature film. As I said, there’s fun parts to it, but the movie has too many numerous problems that drag the movie down. Much what’s expected is that the film is riddled (almost screams) in “B-rated” giant monster cheese and, while it can be amusing within the movie’s context of three animals mutating / growing into enormous monstrous beings that rampage across the country, the movie itself can’t overcome its numerous shortcomings of completely dim-witted and hackneyed. Its easy to notice that right from the get-go that there’s not much in-depth and subversive plot being created in Rampage’s narrative and, while that may be by design, it’s quite transparent and completely redundant. The film’s script, which was penned by four writers (Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, and Adam Sztykel) is incredibly flimsy to the point where the actual plot of the movie is generic and derivate that it lacks a cinematic quality (even for an action blockbuster). The film itself is literally filled with plot holes and other things aren’t fully explain, which makes the film’s main narrative thread a bit hard to swallow, especially if you don’t answer what’s going on.
In truth, the whole machination design of “Project Rampage” in the film is quite ambiguous as it’s really hard to figure out what the Wydens endgame truly is. Basically, the story’s plot isn’t just a half-baked one, it’s almost like one fourth baked, cooking up a vague plot outline that sets everything in motion that only progresses the narrative forward. This means that Rampage is mostly loud and noisy and not much substance throughout. Even some of the high points are a bit lackluster. Case in point to the actual “rampage” part of Rampage, which takes place in the film’s last forty-five minutes. This means that the movie takes almost an hour before the actual “rampage” part to begin. Yes, there are few moments that may excite giant monster fans before this scene takes place, but it’s a bit “too little, too late” for me personally (I was checked out of the movie by that time). Additionally, the film’s script is soaked in hammy dialogue and pseudo “wishy-washy” explanations on what’s going on (mostly in handling the usage of “genetic editing” and other technobabble nuances). Then there’s also the film overall tone, which is mostly cheesy action / comedy (and that’s fine) but Rampage itself is quite violent in certain parts and causing some unevenness when this shift does take place. Also, the film’s final fifteen minutes seems like it goes on forever and could’ve been shortened. Again, it’s hard to fully digest and becomes too silly in trying understand what’s going on. This, of course, goes back to the overall duality that a film like Rampage, where it wants to be silly and over-the-top cheesy, but has a hard time for a viewer in “invest” (i.e. watch and experience) in its “B-rated” thrills. In the end, some people might argue against me on my negative criticisms on Rampage (I know some will probably like it), but it’s hard to like something that has so many plot holes and overall goofiness that it lacks heart and tonal elements to even care about the film’s central plot and / or characters.
The cast in Rampage is very recognizable one, featuring a lot of known / familiar actors and actresses that populate the film’s various characters. Unfortunately, much like movie itself, most of these characters are poorly written and / or too paper-thin (almost cartoon-like caricatures) to be memorable within the movie. Naturally, former wrestler / actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson leads the charge of the film’s cast as Davis Okoye, the film’s central protagonist character. Johnson, known for his roles in Moana, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, and several of The Fast and the Furious movies, has always been brought his magnetic and charm personality to the role (i.e. slightly over-the-top and likeable) and does in again in Davis Okoye. However, while Johnson’s Davis embodies all the traits that we (the viewers) have grown accustomed too from “The Rock”, the character of Davis isn’t that quite compelling or interesting. He basically can do a little bit of everything: be an action badass hero, fly a helicopter, be a primatologist, be an animal whisper, etc. On top of that, his character isn’t given much depth and / or substance beyond his relationship to George. Speaking of that, those particular scenes are probably the most emotional connection Rampage has to offer, but those sequences bookend the feature, so it’s hard drum up some clear hearted emotion beyond that. Still, Johnson is the primary star of the feature and certainly does carry the film on his shoulder (both the good and the bad). It’s basically what you expect from him with his action hero nuances that’s blended with his comedic timing and hammy over-the-top dialogue, which Johnson has perfected down to a “T”. In the end, Johnson’s Davis seems to be the heart of Rampage, but, considering all the other performances that he’s done in his career, this particular one isn’t his most memorable…. more like his “greatest hits” compilation.
Beyond Johnson, the only other member of Rampage’s cast that’s indeed memorable is actor Jeffery Dean Morgan, who plays the secretive government agent Harvey Russell. Known for his roles in Watchmen, The Losers, and The Walking Dead, Morgan definitely seems like he’s enjoying his time on Rampage, chewing through his dialogue with glee and with great ease. While his character isn’t that quite innovated or original or even well-rounded, Morgan makes a fun iteration of the classic high-profile government agent, giving Russell a southern charm swagger that plays well with the context of Rampage (much like Johnson’s Davis). Unfortunately, beyond Johnson and Morgan, most of the important supporting characters in Rampage are paper-thin and / or stupidly written that they come off as cartoon cookie cutout caricatures. For the paper-thin, that goes to the character of Dr. Kate Caldwell, who is played by actress Naomie Harris (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men’s Chest and Skyfall). Harris is a talented actress and does what she can with the material, making Harris, who is a discredited genetic engineer that aides Davis in his endeavor to help save George. However, the character of Kate Caldwell is incredible flat and stale, mostly there to bring plot points / exposition to the viewers and to act (and react) to Johnson’s Davis for pretty much the entire feature. They try to give her a somewhat backstory, but even that becomes uninteresting in the film’s grand scheme of things. As for the stupidly-written part, that award goes to the characters of Claire and Brett Wyden, the conniving sister / brother dup behind the pathogen creation for “Project Rampage”, who are played by actress Malin Akerman (Couples Retreat and Billions) and actor Jake Lacy (How to be Single and Girls). Now, I do like both Akerman and Lacy in some of their previous projects, but their characters in Rampage are hands down the absolute worst. Much like what I said above about the film’s weak plot, these two are part of the problem. Granted, both Akerman and Lacy do what they can in their roles, but they are so stupidly corny and thinly written that its almost an embarrassment for both of them. As I said, there’s no clearly motive to the Wyden’s plan for “Project Rampage” and their characterization are cringe worthy and generic that it’s almost pathetic. Sadly, these two characters are literally the absolute worst part of Rampage.
Much of the rest of the class, including actor Joe Manganiello (Magic Mike and True Blood) as the commanding leader of a lethal military group Burke, actor Matt Gerald (Avatar and Daredevil) as one of Burke’s team members Zammit, actor Will Yun Lee (The Wolverine and San Andreas) as FBI agent Park, actor P.J. Byrne (Vinyl and The Legend of Korra) as scientist / friend to David Okoye Nelson, actor Demetrius Grosse (The Brave and Straight Outta Compton) as Colonel Blake, and actress Marley Shelton (Never Been Kissed and Planet Terror) as Dr. Kerry Atkins, are mostly there to fill out the background with small / cameo-like appearances. Some of these characters are only minimal in letting purpose to a particular scene or to progress the film’s narrative, which (again) are all good actors /actresses that fail to impress within Rampage’s goofy giant monster narrative.
The classic arcade game “smashes” its way to the big screen as Dwayne Johnson stars in the movie Rampage. Director Brad Peyton’s newest film brings to life the classic Midway video game arcade game to life, presenting in a very broad feature of destructive larger-than-life creatures and plenty of B-rated cheesiness. While the film sticks true to its premise and identity as well as some good performances from Johnson and Morgan, the feature lacks substance, heart, emotion, well-roundness, and intriguing characters (who are mostly flat and caricatures ones), and just can’t escape from its hokey / paper thin story / dialogue. Personally, my expectations were set low and I still wasn’t super impressed with this movie. It had some giant monster fun to it (at certain points), but the movie’s negative points stand out more to me than the positive ones. With that said, I would probably saw that Rampage is both an “iffy-choice” and a “skip it” as some might like to see it (those who like a shameless giant monster flick) but holds little entertainment value beyond that basic premise for the causal moviegoer. To that end, Rampage is exactly what its suppose to be (no more, no less) and while its steeped in cheesy B-rated silliness and mayhem, the movie itself is a far cry from breaking the “curse” on video game movies, let alone being a good or memorable one.
2.7 Out of 5 (Iffy-Choice / Skip It)
Released On: April 13th, 2018
Reviewed On: April 16th, 2018
Rampage is 107 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief language, and crude gestures