RAMPAGE review by Mark Walters – Dwayne Johnson brings a classic arcade game to life

RAMPAGE review by Mark Walters – Dwayne Johnson brings a classic arcade game to life

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We’ve certainly seen our share of movies based on popular video games through the years, but the fact that RAMPAGE got made is still somewhat hard to believe. The original arcade game (you know, those old stand up cabinets like Galaga and Dragon’s Lair?) revolved around you playing one of three giant monsters causing destruction of dozens of cities across the United States, in the process smashing military vehicles, eating humans, and swatting down helicopters… it was definitely an inspired concept. But hey, Hollywood is out of ideas, right? So now we have a RAMPAGE movie starring Dwayne Johnson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman, Joe Manganiello, Naomie Harris, Marley Shelton, and Jake Lacy. Brad Peyton (SAN ANDREAS) re-teams with The Rock for this one, which surprisingly is pretty good. Honestly, I never thought this could work as a film, but they seem to have found a way to adapt it without things appearing too silly, or at least silly only when necessary.

The story opens with a doomed space mission on a scientific station that is nearly destroyed. The one surviving human occupant Dr. Kerry Atkins (Marley Shelton) calls home to tell them the crew is dead, and their experiment has escaped… we hear it roaring nearby. But the ground crew won’t let her access the escape pod without the experiment samples in tow. So with an unseen monster still looking for her, she risks her life to get the samples, and just barely escapes as the station explodes. Unfortunately, the craft breaks up on re-entry, sending debris (and those dreaded samples) to the earth below. We then meet zoo Primatologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson), a man who keeps people at a distance, but shares an unshakable bond with George, an extraordinarily intelligent albino gorilla who has been in his care since being found as a baby. They communicate with sign language, and George even likes to joke around with Davis. Before long, the gorilla finds some of the downed debris of the escape pod we saw earlier, and one of the canisters, which he gets painfully exposed to. Elsewhere we see a wolf finding another canister, and yet another canister landing in a swamp. The next morning Davis discovers George (now much bigger in size) is behaving strangely and seems scared. Okoye promises his friend he’ll help him, but doesn’t know what to do.

Enter discredited genetic engineer Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) who claims she can help, and we discover she used to work for the corporation responsible for these samples, a research company run by the ruthless Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman) and Brett Wyden (Jake Lacy). Just as Kate and Davis seem to be getting somewhere, they’re met by mysterious government task man Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who takes George and those two on to a military plane, never really revealing his mission, only that he means to protect people from what these animals are turning into. The Wydens selfishly want their samples back, and think they can blame the destruction and giant animal carnage on Kate. They also implement a homing signal that acts as a beacon that the mutated animals are drawn to. Now the three giant animal monsters start tearing through buildings on their way to the Wyden’s headquarters, smacking around military vehicles and soldiers in the way. Of course, the military don’t seem to have any other resolve than to just shoot and attack these creatures as fiercely as possible… and as things go from bad to worse, the commanding officer green-lights a plan to drop a major bomb on the city as a last resort. Davis and Kate desperately try to catch up with George, before things go past the point of no return.

RAMPAGE is one of those movies that seems very aware of what it is, never trying to be too smart or too serious. The subject matter is so farfetched that most of the production seems to rely on humor and exciting action, taking the audience on a relentless ride that is so much fun you tend to forget about the most ludicrous elements. And the characters are all played smartly, with Johnson doing his typical (but effective) strong hero that never gives up, and Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy playing the villains cartoonishly over the top… on the latter, you know at some point they’re going to get what’s coming to them, and their reading of the roles makes that end result very satisfying. Jeffrey Dean Morgan ramps his performance up to laughable levels, making his snarling “Negan” on THE WALKING DEAD seem tempered by comparison. The only actor playing it straight here is the wonderful Naomie Harris, who still isn’t afraid to jump in on the action beats. It seems like everyone is having a blast in the film, giving it everything they’ve got and helping make the production a roller coaster ride of intense amusement.

I appreciated how director Brad Peyton found a way to bring the video game to life, including little moments that arcade game fans will appreciate, and those unfamiliar with the source material will still enjoy. If you look closely enough, you’ll even notice a few shots with an actual Rampage arcade cabinet in the background. Most video game-based movies are never all that good, but RAMPAGE is a treat if you’re in the right mindset. There’s a few moments where the script tries to get a little heavy on the scientific jargon, but the cartoon carnage isn’t far behind. The casting is also fun, though don’t expect to see very much of Marley Shelton or Joe Manganiello (who is shown in most of the marketing), as their scenes are more like extended cameos than memorable roles. There’s also a few emotional moments that arrive a little unexpectedly, and almost feel a little too serious for a film like this. But what’s most unexpected is how much we fall in love with George, even once he’s a giant raging monster. There are scenes where the audience was audibly cheering for the big ape, and it’s hard not to feel the same way. A movie like RAMPAGE probably shouldn’t work, yet the end result is really a pleasure to watch. You’ll have to go in with a serious suspension of disbelief, but honestly, watching this film is probably more fun than playing even the greatest of arcade games.

RAMPAGE opens April 13, 2018

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started Bigfanboy.com, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and Bigfanboy.com regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.