Movie Mini-Review: Rampage

Rampage was…not good. (Warning – “spoilers” below, though honestly, there’s not much to spoil)

I see you folks in the back, snickering and saying “well, what did you expect?”. Here’s the thing though – Rampage was probably the most-disappointing movie I’ve seen in the last year. It’s an onion of layered badness. Even The Rock couldn’t save this one. What a joyless, boring, poorly-made movie.

Whenever any movie is adapted from some other medium, whether it’s a book, a play, or a video game, some amount of changes are inevitable. You often have to trim the plot or characters of a novel in order to “fit” it into a movie, for example. And the writers and director will want to make their own changes, to adapt the story to the medium, or just to put their own twist on a well-known property.

But I’ve never seen a film adapt source material whose full plot could be written on a 3×5 note card, and use NONE of it. In theory, Rampage is an adaptation of the classic video game of the same name, which was released in 1986. The player takes control of a giant monster – an ape, a werewolf, or a lizard – and climbs onto buildings, smashes them, and eats people. In those days, video games really didn’t have “plots”, as such. We didn’t have the memory for that 🙂 The entirety of the plot exposition takes place as text that scrolls on the screen at the start the game, and you’re shown the origin story of whichever of the monsters you’ve chosen to control. In each case, it’s a human being who’s mutated into a giant monster by exposure to some dangerous chemical.

The monsters then go on a 128-city tour of North American cities, starting and ending in Illinois, leaving destruction in their wake. In every city, the layout of the buildings is the different, and there are additional features in some cities, such as the trains in Chicago, and the bridge over the river in Detroit. As you’re destroying the buildings, soldiers will shoot you from the windows, and some will inexplicably throw dynamite. Smashing the windows of the buildings will occasionally reveal surprises, as well – from a roasted chicken which you can eat for extra health, to electrical devices that can shock you and make you lose your grip. The whole thing is gloriously silly, in the way of Saturday afternoon Creature Features, with guys in rubber suits beating each other up in model cities made of balsa wood and paper.

Essentially none of that is in the movie. There is a giant ape, who’s named George. But he’s not a human who turned into an ape – he’s a gorilla affected by a DNA-editing toxin, which causes him to grow very rapidly. His handler, played by The Rock, has to search for an antidote to cure him. This is obviously part of the process of making room for the human characters to actually be the stars, and it hugely alters the tone of the thing, as well. Instead of a fun movie about giant monsters smashing stuff, we get a much more-typical blockbuster hero movie, where the muscular hero dude and his female sidekick have to race against time to save the world (or at least Chicago) from destruction.

Rampage is a game about monsters punching buildings and eating people…but an hour into the movie, there were no buildings wrecked (well, one partially wrecked), and almost nobody got eaten. The film did try to inject some humor into things, but a lot of the funny bits fell pretty flat, because they didn’t really fit the “grim and gritty reboot” that the rest of the movie was trying to be.

And then there’s the gore, which I found really off putting. PG-13 is apparently The Uncanny Valley for gore. In little kids movies, there’s no gore. In R-rated movies, you can have either realistic gore or ridiculous over-the top gore, take your pick. PG-13, you can get enough blood to be disturbing, but not enough to be funny.

On my way in, I saw a couple and their young (maybe 8 or 9 year-old) daughter settling in to watch the movie. I know that all kids are different, and maybe her parents weren’t really thinking about the “13” in the PG-13 rating, but this is a movie that starts out with a fairly intense chase scene in a space station filled with blood, severed heads, and detached limbs. Probably not what they thought they were getting, based on the trailer, and the fact that The Rock was the headline star. Unsurprisingly, the little girl was pretty upset after being subjected to that. I didn’t see them when I left the theater, but I’m guessing they didn’t see the whole thing.

Interestingly, some folks have praised Rampage as “The most faithful video game adaptation” or gone into great detail on the various nods to the source material. I guess it all depends on what you’re looking for. For me, adapting something to film, and losing the “soul” of the thing along the way is just sad. Someone could have made a really fun Rampage movie, but this definitely wasn’t it.

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