Blu-ray Review: Rampage

Video game adaptations for the silver-screen are a mixed bag, as it’s often hard to take a story that has often dozens of hours to involve its audiences on a gaming platform and cram it into a 120 time-frame. Though recently Hollywood has delved into games that have no-built in story at all, so it’s more of taking a simple concept and building a story from that in any way they may see entertaining. This most famously didn’t work for the film version of the board game Battleship, but there’s lots of summer blockbuster movie money out there to spend so the saying try, try again rings true in this case.

Enter Rampage. If you were a video game player in the 1980s and early ‘90s, odds are you played the game Rampage at your local arcade. The premise of the game was simple: choose to play as George, the giant gorilla (think King Kong), Lizzie, a dinosaur/lizard type creature (think Godzilla) or Ralph, a giant werewolf, and once you’ve made your selection you simply destroy the city with said character. You could play with up to three players, and yeah, that was it. You’d swat down helicopters, step on tanks, eat random people running away (or even pull them from the bath in their apartment) and cause mass destruction. Once all the buildings on the level were destroyed, you moved on to the next level to do the same thing over again!

So with that being the only real concept of the game, writer Ryan Engle pitched the idea to fill in the blanks on the rest of the story to create the film that’s here today. How is it? Well, it has its pros and cons, but overall, it’s a solid, fun flick that delivers most of the goods you’re looking for when in the mood for an action-packed Hollywood blockbuster.

The first pro, and it’s a doozy, is having Dwayne Johnson locked in as the star. This guy is a workhorse, and he’s the embodiment of pure entertainment at the box-office and has been since 2003’s The Rundown (The Scorpion King was fun and all, but The Rundown is really where Johnson was allowed to shine.) Here he plays Davis Okoye, a primatologist with a military anti-poacher hunting past, who rescued an albino silverback gorilla named George after his family was killed by poachers. George has since grown up at the San Diego wildlife sanctuary and has a special bond with Davis.

The key in movies like this is to make the animals feel as though they’re real characters so the audiences can become emotionally attached to them, and boy do they nail it here. The chemistry between Johnson, motion-caption actor Jason Liles, and the Weta special effects team that takes Liles performance and creates George with it digitally, is perfect. In fact, I could honestly watch a movie where Johnson and George simply hang out with one another for the entire film. I mean, add a prequel story in there of Davis teaching him to sign or something simple, but all I’m saying is that watching the two interact on-screen is something special. You can feel the bond that Davis and George share, and the emotions felt are real.

That somewhat leads to a con, however, as this bond is broken when a space science experiment gone wrong enters the picture. In short: there’s an evil gene manipulation corporation called Energyne that built a space station in order to keep its secret gene splicing projects off the government radar (because in the world of this film, genetic manipulation — or CRISPR, as it’s better known as — has been outlawed and is considered a weapon of mass destruction.) Things take a turn, however, when their space station explodes due to unforeseen circumstances, and three canisters of the pathogen Energyn was working on crash land in different parts of the United States: one in the Everglades, where it’s eaten by a crocodile; another in Wyoming, where it infects a wolf, and lastly in San Diego, where it lands in the gorilla enclosure and infects George.

Now, that part isn’t a con. That’s a fine way to keep things moving, and actually infect the animals from the video game in a somewhat logical – albeit fairly extreme – manner. The con comes from the fact that this pathogen causes these animals to become genetically altered (each of the three canisters are unique, with multiple possible animal hybrid outcomes that can’t be predicted without knowing which canister was which) and also extremely aggressive. So, gone is nice George for the second act of the film, as he becomes a part of the wrecking crew alongside his equally angry counterpart, Ralph the wolf as they head to Chicago.

Why Chicago? Well that’s where the villains are, and they want to bring these animals back so they can pull samples of the pathogen from them so as to not lose their entire investment in the billion-dollar space project gone wrong. In order to do so, they’ve placed a beacon emitting a radio frequency at the top of their tower that only the infected animals can hear it, and they know that they’ll stop at nothing to stop it from emitting these sounds. So basically, it’s a poorly thought out trap in order to get the animals to climb a building later on like they do in the game. I mean, the bad guys don’t know that, but we do.

The bad guys are Energyne CEO Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman) and her brother, Brett (Jake Lacy) and they also land in the cons column. They’re pretty weak when it comes to being antagonists, as their schtick is so cliché that they almost come off as caricatures over people who seem like an actual threat. It may not be that bad if they actually gave them a bit more depth, but really, they’re just two bad people with no morals who are just out for themselves and money and that’s all we’re really given.

Now don’t get me wrong, the reason you go and see a movie like this is to watch the animals destroy things and eventually fight one another, so I know the bad guys aren’t really that important; however, there’s a hefty chunk of time in the second act of the film where the animals are simply headed towards Chicago and we’re left with the human characters of the film to keep us entertained. That’s where the film stumbles a bit, as these two villains aren’t engaging any time they’re on screen, and we’re also given the usual high-ranking army guy who won’t listen to reason scenario intermixed with the main characters learning more about one another.

Now that last part is good, but the rest is all just all about the pacing. I enjoyed learning more about Davis’s past and how he and George came to find one another, and Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) has good reason to be helping him try to bring down Energyne due to things they’d done to her in the past. There’s also the addition of government agent Harvey Russell (Jeffery Dean Morgan), as he tries to figure out the best course of action to take in order to make this scenario as casualty-light as possible.

But it’s a fine line to want to get solid character interaction and overall story, while also keeping the action at a steady pace. Now, it never slows to a crawl, but between a strong first act filled with fun characters and emotional connections and an explosive third act filled with the creature battles and city destruction we all signed up for, there’s simply a lull at certain points throughout the second act that sometimes just throws the pacing just enough to feel off. The character interaction also feels a bit more forced compared to the natural back and forth between Davis and his team in San Diego.

With the animals on a one-way path to Chicago, it leaves things feeling a bit empty along the way. There’s a really well shot scene at the start of the second act when Claire sends a team of mercenaries to Wyoming to collect the fallen sample. This was before they realized that a wolf had been infected and was now 30-feet long. So when the team arrives and sees what’s happened, things go crazy and we get an intense battle between them and Ralph the wolf and it’s one of the most fun scenes in the film. That type of small scene would’ve fit nicely while George and Ralph were charging towards Chicago, but it just wasn’t meant to be. I’m not sure if they thought it’d be overkill or take away from the final forty-minutes of the film that’s the attack on Chicago, but really, who doesn’t want more giant, gene-spliced animal destruction?

But let’s push that con aside and focus on the big plus that is the attack on Chicago and third act. Director Brad Peyton nails the action here, and the special effects and post team only add to his vision, with the city being torn apart, the military going crazy and Lizzie the mutant crocodile finally showing up. And this is all before the moment that George snaps out of it and teams up with Davis to try and stop Ralph and Lizzie’s path of destruction. While I totally understand wanting to have all three “monsters” tear apart the city like in the game, damn do I wish we had more George and Davis vs. Goliath creatures! But hey, what we do get of that is fantastic, emotional and filled with bad-assery and laughs, so I can’t really complain.

Let me take a quick moment to talk about the amazing work done by Weta to bring these creatures to life! Now, I already talked about George briefly, but he along with Ralph and Lizzie all look absolutely spectacular. They move fairly natural (as natural as a genetically spliced animal can move) and just look so strong. These aren’t simply a giant wolf, gorilla and crocodile. No, Lizzie looks like something out of a Jurassic Park themed nightmare, and Ralph comes off as an absolute beast that will fearlessly take on anything. George keeps his look fairly similar to how he looks in the beginning, other than his size, but that works for him as he’s really the heart of the film when it all boils down to it.

Overall, Rampage starts off strong on all fronts, falters a little at the midway point, but rights the course for the final act to deliver the explosive, over-the-top action that audiences want from a movie like this.

The film looks awesome, with a sharp, really nice clean look to it throughout. The night shots are great, the different locations across the States look sharp. As a whole, there’s zero to complain about on the visual side, and the same goes for audio. The movie sounds great, with surround sound coming out nicely, dialogue is also clean, and the score plays along beautifully.

Special Features:

Not a Game Anymore – This feature is just over six minutes in length and talks about the idea of bringing the Rampage video game to the big screen and some of the trials and tribulations encountered in trying to do so. We also learn that Dwayne Johnson was a huge fan of the game growing up in Hawaii.

Deleted Scenes – There are a handful of deleted scenes to be found here that don’t really add anything to the movie. Some are just a brief additional shot to an existing scene. One interesting cut was what looks like it likely would’ve been a post-credit scene, where a canister also landed in the ocean and created a giant squid.

Gag Reel – A brief gag reel at under three-minutes in length. Usually I enjoy these, but this one is fairly simple. I mean, it’s fast enough that watching it won’t take up any time at all really, but there just aren’t any real improve or funny takes from it.

Rampage: Actors in Action – This feature is just under 11-minutes long and talks about the making of the plane action sequence, and Peyton using Previz to basically create the film digitally beforehand so that actors could see what would happen or practice action scenes with a digital monster there. They also touch on the initial Ralph attack sequence, which was great.

Trio of Destruction – This feature is 10 minutes in length and talks about bringing George, Lizzie and Ralph to life digitally, while also altering some of their DNA to make them monsters instead of just giant animals. Quite a fun watch with some great concept art.

Attack on Chicago – This feature is also 10-minutes in length and talks about the digital effects team having to basically recreate Chicago so that it could be destroyed digitally, but still look realistic while it’s happening.

Bringing George to Life – Lastly, this feature is 12-minutes long and talks about actor Jason Liles becoming George, working with Terry Notary (who played King Kong, most recently) on learning how to embody a gorilla, as well as working with Weta digital effects to bring his emotions to life on screen.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Presents Rampage. Directed by: Brad Peyton. Written by: Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, Adam Sztykiel. Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Jason Liles, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello. Running time: 108 Minutes. Rating: 14A. Released on Blu-ray: July 17, 2018.

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