By: Kevin Jordan
Keep it simple, stupid.
If you were to make a list of video games you would most like to see adapted into movies, I am guessing that list would include exactly zero classic arcade games. I have never expressed a desire to see a Galaga or Centipede movie on the silver screen nor have I heard any other mammal express that desire. The reasoning is simple – those games have no story on which to base a movie. Ironically, that reasoning means some of those same games are the safest to adapt because there is no legion of middle-aged nerds freaking out because Hollywood crapped on their childhood memories or ruined a fantastic game. Thus, we have Rampage, a movie based on a game in which players are tasked with destroying buildings using the fists of one of three (two if you only played the NES version, like me) giant creatures. All the movie had to do to pay respect to the game was offer up rationale, no matter how absurd, for the existence of the creatures and why they would attack buildings. And, they did not hold back on the absurdity.
(SPOILER ALERT for obligatory reasons, not because you do not know what happens in this movie.)
The biggest absurdity of this film is how hard the four screenwriters worked to explain nonsense. The film kicks off in space. Chew on that for a moment. Alarms are sounding on a space station and a frantic astronaut is trying to escape from a giant mutant rat that has killed everyone else on board, but her (remote) corporate overlords will not let her leave without grabbing the scientific research on board the station. She escapes in the nick of time, but her capsule explodes upon reentry and the three cylinders containing the research plummet to Earth. Goodbye ten minutes of your life. That is the explanation given for how a gorilla named George, a wolf, and an alligator become gigantic, destructive monsters and it was completely unnecessary. The movie should have just begun with the three capsules streaking through the sky, but I am not four different writers, am I?
Davis Okoye (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is a primatologist (he said while chuckling and remembering the time Denise Richards played a nuclear scientist) who has worked with George for George’s entire life. Their relationship is so close that Davis can decipher anything George says (through sign-language), taught George how to flip the bird, and prefers the company of George (and other animals) over humans, including a very attractive woman who invites Davis to show her his other monkey. By the sheer pull of Johnson’s animal magnetism, one of the research capsules lands in the gorilla enclosure and sprays green mist in George’s face. The next morning, Davis discovers George is much bigger and killed a grizzly bear, but this movie is rated PG-13 so no gorilla-vs-bear action in a movie about rampaging animals.
Meanwhile, the corporate overlords are revealed to be Claire and Brett Wyden (Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy, respectively). They send out private soldiers to track down the capsules and kill the mutant wolf, but that plan does not go well. Plan B is to turn on a giant radio that will attract the beasts to the tower formally known as Sears so they can collect DNA samples and sell this weaponized DNA for profit. Do not worry; they have a cure. I promise that plan is flawless as long as you ignore every part of that same plan. Suffice it to say, the animals race to Chicago to destroy the signal and everything in their path.
(Side note and pet peeve: these same two siblings funded a space station, yet their stated goal here is to make money? Four writers, everybody.)
The other big absurdity of this film was the casting. This is par for the course for Johnson, who is this generation’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, but without the overt soldier aspect, but every other recognizable actor in this film should have had better things to do. Akerman might be the worst villain this decade, but she sure tries to look the part when she scrunches up her face to look like a big meanie. Lacy is obviously there for the comedic support, but none of the four writers appear to be familiar with the concept of humor and treat his character as nothing more than a bad pun. But nobody is more out of place than Jeffrey Dean Morgan playing a special agent playing a birthday-party version of Negan, complete with chrome plated pistol and rodeo-sized belt buckle because carrying Lucille around would be copyright infringement. Morgan’s performance is so ridiculous that you probably will not notice that Naomie Harris (playing Dr. Kate Caldwell) is laughably atrocious and literally an actor in this movie. Not that I blame her or Morgan completely, considering the dialogue they were forced to memorize and repeat out loud, but yeeesh.
I know many of you cannot wait to tell me how much of a film snob I am and that this movie was not intended to win Oscars, but remember I am the same person who enjoyed Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunter. This movie is not bad because I am a film critic, it is bad because four writers, a director, a studio, and a bunch of producers forgot they were making a movie based on a game whose entire story is its own title. This movie should have been all kinds of fun to watch, but the never-ending exposition coupled with rampant inconsistencies (why does only the wolf get the power of flight and porcupine quills and why do the other animals grow so much larger than George?) nearly put my theater’s entire audience into a coma. And don’t even get me started on how asinine it was how George was cured (the cure being the animal just stops wanting to kill everything). I just wanted to enjoy a mindless movie while on a work trip and all I could think of during the movie was how the game was better. Some buildings did get destroyed in the movie, so mission accomplished, I guess.
Rating: Ask for thirteen dollars back because movies do not cost ten dollars any more, like they did when I started writing these things.