Rampage: a review

I wanted to write an eloquent review of Rampage. I started, then deleted a draft detailing my love for the original arcade game in the late 80's and early 90's. It followed into my enjoyment of the console versions released on the original PlayStation and later for XBOX. Let's be realistic though. Rampage is an atrocious movie. It is undeserving of such an articulately composed review. So, I'll be blunt. This movie should not have been made.

Even though video games usually do not translate into quality cinema, I still had tempered expectations for Rampage. I anticipated a big, stupid, yet somewhat fun film. It delivered on the big and stupid, but failed to provide any fun. When compared to the irresistible and cathartic amusement of its source material, it is unfortunate an unforgivable for the theatrical interpretation to be such an abysmal mess.

this was fun, image courtesy of Bally Midway

As for where the movie version of Rampage went wrong, let's start with the basic plot. Vulture published an article claiming "Why Rampage Is the Most Faithful Video-Game Adaptation Ever Made" yet provided no evidence of the film's faithfulness. Because it's not faithful at all. Rampage (the game) was a simple story about a giant lizard, ape, and wolf destroying one city after another. Rampage (the movie) had a convoluted story about weaponizing genetic modifications, a primatologist's relationship with his best gorilla friend, and corporate espionage. It was also (kinda sorta) about a giant lizard, ape, and wolf destroying some of one singular city. The only continuity between the two mediums is that big monsters destroyed some buildings. In the video game, the monsters were once humans transformed by exposure to toxic chemicals. Lizzie, George, and Ralph then traveled the world attempting to destroy all the cities where they found chemical plants ran by their employer, ScumLabs. In the movie, ordinary animals were exposed to growth hormones from illegal gene manipulation experiments conducted on a space station and drawn to the corporate headquarters of Energyne by some sort of undetectable radio signal. Some of those animals mutated to include DNA of other creatures. For example, the wolf can glide like a flying squirrel and throw quills like a porcupine. Meanwhile, the gorilla was only supersized versions of his original body.

Beyond deviations from the game's origin story and minimal plot, there is much more to the movie Rampage worth complaint. The CGI was inconsistent - impressive at best and shoddy at worst. While the fur and skin creature effects looked great, there were scenes in the movie where it was obvious you were watching The Rock in front of a green screen. The bad guys were just bad. Not so-bad-we-love-them, but over the top, mind-numbingly cheesy, and so bad it's not even enjoyable to watch - like a humorless version of Pinky and The Brain. Anything hinting at their motives was incoherent. The game's original arcade cabinet showed up in the background of several scenes but only as decoration. No one played or even mentioned it; its existence is more a self-congratulatory salute from a filmmaker trying too hard than it is a celebratory nod to the franchise's fans. The only logic of the film's plot is to supply the main characters with quippy one-liners, whatever might look cool to a seven-year-old so they can sell toys, and convenience as a crutch for sloppy screenwriting/lazy storytelling. There are no explanations why the wolf had DNA spliced in from other species while the gorilla did not, or why the crocodile grew so much bigger than the other monsters. Police and military are portrayed as incompetent buffoons for no apparent reason. Characters are introduced and disposed of faster than it takes to flush a toilet. The primatologist has a lengthy backstory including combat with Army Special Forces, working as an anti-poaching officer on African wildlands, and extensive philanthropic work because why not. He's an expert at everything and would be considered over-powered he was an actual videogame character. On top of all of that, the gorilla (who communicates through sign language) has the inappropriate, dirty, perverted sense of humor of a junior high aged boy, and failed to learn how jokes are funny the first time, not funny the second time, and annoying any time after that. Finally, for a film based on a game where the sole purpose was destroying things, the movie's destruction was disappointingly minimal. They spent too much time with intrapersonal conflict between the main characters, the villains hatching their schemes, the military planning action then watching it unfold from a remote location, pointless conversations, and jokes beaten to death through repetition.

The only redeeming quality in Rampage is the trio of heroes. Duane Johnson (the primatologist), Naomie Harris (the genetic engineer and former Energyne employee), and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (rogue government agent) fully embraced the silliness of their roles. It's as if they knew they were making a bad movie so they might as well enjoy doing it - which is good for them because I did not enjoy this movie. I really wish I could recommend this movie but I can't. It failed to live up to my lowest of low expectations. It was big, dumb, and boring. It isn't even worth the price of popcorn at the theater's concessions and I've now wasted more words on Rampage here than it deserves.

this was not fun, image courtesy of New Line Cinema

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