Rampage (2018)

I’ve been playing video games since the Atari VCS first hit the market and watching movies for even longer. I still spend way too much time on both. However, the combination of the two has not proven to be quite as appealing as I might have hoped.

The problem is, (with a few significant exceptions), video games aren’t noted for providing great cinematic plots. Some do – Mass Effect and Final Fantasy VII spring to mind – but that’s not typically their primary concern. The plot and backstory is normally in place in order to provide context and justification to the game play, rather than to tell a story in their own right.

Thus while I did managed to sit through the Tomb Raider movies and genuinely enjoyed the almost plot-free Mortal Kombat, I also remember trying to watch Street Fighter, Prince of Persia, Max Payne, far, far too many Resident Evil movies, and Dwayne Johnson’s Doom. It isn’t as if it is impossible to make a worthwhile video game movie, but they don’t have a great track record.

That said, while not technically a video game, I was quite taken by 2012’s Battleship, starring Taylor Kitsch and an awful lot of explosions. If you haven’t seen it, which is probably wise, you might suspect that the Battleship game (as in, “you sunk my battleship”), would provide insufficient material on which to base a movie. If so, you would be correct – it didn’t. Which was the trick, of course. Peter Berg simply ignored the source material, made a perfectly serviceable aliens vs the US Navy movie, and made sure to drop in a passing reference or two to the game.

I wish that Rampage had taken the same route. The original arcade game – which I’m old enough to remember playing when it first appeared in the arcades in 1986 – had a distinct lack of plot. The player controls one of three monsters – George, a King Kong clone, Ralph the giant werewolf, and the Godzilla rip-off Lizzy – which players control in order to destroy buildings. Health is regained by eating the occasional person, and lost by being shot at by the military. The closest thing to a plot are the brief newspaper reports which appeared between levels, and calling that a “story” is more than a bit of a stretch.

In the movie Rampage, three monsters – George, a King Kong clone, Ralph the giant werewolf, and the Godzilla rip-off Lizzie (which is a tad unfair to the designers of Lizzie, who looks less like Godzilla than I was expecting) – destroy buildings in a city while eating people and being shot at by the military. There is something that vaguely resembles a backstory, but the director did his best to make sure that it didn’t get in the way. Indeed, what passes for a plot is so bad and unrealistic that it is best if you pretend that it wasn’t there at all – the more you think about the story, the worse the movie will become. Let’s just say that it involves a mysterious corporation developing a strange goo on a space station that causes animals to grow to monstrous size, the goo being accidentally released on Earth, and then, for some inexplicable reason, the corporation decides that it would be an absolutely wonderful plan to a) make the giant monsters angry, and b) summon them to attack their own corporate headquarters.

Where the film becomes enjoyable is in the interaction between George the gorillia and Dwayne Johnson’s character, Davis Okoye. Dwayne Johnson plays a primatologist who is responsible for raising George and teaching him sign language. He is an extremely capable primatologist, not just as an expert in their behaviour, but also because he previously served in the Special Forces, proving himself proficient with a wide range of weapons and capable of flying a military helicopter. Johnson has spent many, many movies developing his likeable tough guy character, and as always it comes across well – he may not have the biggest acting range, but he performs it with the necessary slight variations depending on which movie he’s appearing in. The movie ultimately hangs on his performance, the CGI for George, and the various action sequences – of which there are many.

It works for what it is. As far as big budget brainless action movies go, I enjoyed this one. I feel that I have become especially skilled in ignoring plots over recent years, and this skill positioned me well for Rampage. I’ve also become quite fond of Johnson’s on-screen persona, and this is as good an iteration of it as any.

Forthcoming video game based movies include Minecraft and Fruit Ninja, so there is clearly more fun to look forward to. Or not, as the case may be.