So, this is probably going to be a longer, more in-depth, more passionate post than necessary about a film that does not deserve more thought than whether or not to upsize your combo, but I feel like saying a few words about the slightly-earlier-than-summer summer blockbuster “Rampage.”
To start with, this movie does something that I quite like in general. Readers of TVTropes will no doubt be familiar with such concepts as the obligatory dumbass that does something stupid at the beginning of the movie to show how smart the protagonist is in comparison, or the obligatory hot woman who shows intense interest in banging the protagonist, again early in the movie, to show how amazingly hot HE is, or the obligatory nerdy guy who exists purely to say “You’re supposed to do things THIS way”, just to demonstrate how the protagonist is a loose cannon, man, and you just can’t control him, man, he’s like the wind.
Rampage has those elements. No question about it, they’re there. But they aren’t overplayed. The dumbass is dumb, true, but his dumbness is resolved in about three seconds and information is imparted during the sequence that comes up again later in the film. The hot woman is dealt with in three sentences, and she’s done. The nerdy guy has a legitimate point, and he’s not dismissed as an obstructionist moron like Peck in Ghostbusters. Everybody in the film - with one glaring exception - is doing things as well as they can, at that point in time, with the cards they’re given.
The one exception is, unfortunately, the primary villian of the piece, a evil nefarious sinister muahahahaha psychopathic woman who may be a scientist or might just be an evil businessperson, but is so over-the -top evil that she’s hard to take seriously. She starts off telling a woman in a exploding space station that she won’t let her off the station without the Plot Device of the movie, and winds up getting her killed, and follows that up with a (admittedly necessary for the screenwriters) incredibly stooooooopid decision to bring all the giant monsters - I’m assuming that anyone reading this is at least vaguely aware of the premise of the film, but for those who aren’t, a brief summary is “giant monsters wreck Chicago” - to downtown Chicago instead of, say, a hundred miles outside of town, which would have been trivial to arrange for her. She’s basically in an entirely different movie from everybody else - only genetics prevent her from twirling her moustache and tying women to railroad tracks - and it’s somewhat jarring.
To be honest, she’s the reason I suspect that people who don’t like this film don’t like it. The actress who plays her and the director and the screenwriters all made choices for the role, and they chose ... poorly.
I have to admit, though, her sidekick/henchman/brother plays off of her unstoppable evil well - he’s basically the eighties businessman from Futurama, and he’s just as confused by how eeeeevil his sister his as we are, even though he’s willing to go along with the general business plan of “make giant monster-izer/???/profit”.
I can’t say enough about this particular aspect of the film: the people in it are not stupid. They may be wrong, they may make mistakes, but they are not, Big Evil Businesswoman aside, doing things that put up a big flashing sign that says “I Am Doing This Only Because The Plot Needs Me To Do It Now.” I respect that entirely - it’s one reason why I like Die Hard, and it’s one of the few things that I don’t like about the original Ghostbusters (Walter Peck has a point, goddamnit.)
The second point I like about this film is that things are not belaboured to death. So, in the film, three canisters of Giant Monster-In-A-Can land at three locations across the US. One of them lands bang in the middle of a forest in Wyoming, and is discovered by a wolf. The Evil Nasty Businesswoman sends her Unstoppable Killing Machine Of A Henchman and his cohorts to go get the canister and/or the wolf. The UKMOAH is depicted as these guys usually are - we see how many attachments he has on his gun, we see how professional he is in the field, and we see exactly how tough he is. Heck, in another movie, he’d be the hero. Hell, basically he was, in a little film called Predator.
It’s a nice, tight little sequence, seeing him and his crew find the impact point, get spooked by animals, all the usual things ... and then the wolf shows up and we get the entire rest of Predator happening in about two minutes as his entire team gets eaten, culminating in the UKMOAH himself getting killed by the wolf. Bang, we’re over, done, and out. Nice, tight, well-constructed, showing how much of a threat the wolf is without making us watch twenty minutes of unneeded characterization and/or padding. This happens several times, actually - we get a setup, we get the information that moves the plot along, we get a pretty-well-done action sequence (although this director is no McTiernan, he does an okay job,) and we move on. I know that, in most movies, we need to have a heightened sense of emotion to make sure the threat is clear, but here, we don’t bloody need it. We have a giant goddamn wolf, we have a city, we need to get’em together as fast as possible, let’s get cracking.
I’m genuinely surprised at how long the movie is, as well as how short it feels. It works the same was as many of the best Bond films do; a book on Bond that I have calls in the Fleming Sweep - you get carried along from scene to scene and location to location, because you don’t overplay it and you don’t waste time on unnecessary elements, saving time for the bits that do matter.
Lastly, and this is the thing that made me write this, and is the thing that I suspect nobody else cares about: I am awestruck at how well this movie evokes the feeling that the original source material - the video game Rampage - should have.
The game involves three people mutated into giant monsters - one Godzilla ripoff, one Kong ripoff, and a giant werewolf - who run around an 8-bit city climbing and wrecking buildings, beating up on the Army, and eating people. It’s fast (for the period it came out), mildly funny, and basically tries to capture the feeling of the best of the cheeseball Toho Godzilla movies (There are Godzilla movies that are horror movies, there are Godzilla movies that are science fiction adventure films, and there are Godzilla movies that professional wrestling looks at and goes “Really?”) where you’re rooting for the monsters and the set-builders.
That’s why, in passing, the Evil Nasty Businesswoman attracted the giant monsters to Chicago. It would have made sense, in the real world, to have all three of the mutated animals of the movie come to some safe point in the middle of nowhere, but that wouldn’t be any fun.
No, we need our giant ape, our giant wolf, and our giant lizard, all come to some place with buildings they can climb, punch, and grab people out of to eat. It’s incredibly stupid in any universe save the one of Rampage, but here, we get what we pay to see, and that’s a massive shitload of property damage and spectacular giant monkey-on-giant-wolf-or-giant-lizard action.
I am on record as being in favour of the 2014 Godzilla movie - it was designed around the idea of anticipation adding to the pleasure of seeing Godzilla open a can of whoopass, and for me it worked. The final shot of Godzilla giving the MUTO what-for was worth the entire movie, as far as I’m concerned.
I’m also in favour of Kong: Skull Island, which basically gives you as much monkey action as you could want. Kong versus helicopter, Kong versus skullcrawler, Kong having a bath, Kong versus squid, you want it, it’s there. I love Kong: Skull Island to pieces, because it really understands what we want from Kong in the modern era, and it treats Kong’s status as a giant metaphor for something with respect. (In the modern era, it’s hard to write a story with Kong representing the wild, untamed, urge of the protagonist to get it on with the female lead, so they found another metaphor to use.)
Rampage is somewhere in between - more closely following the Toho paradigm of two-thirds of the movie being people talking about the monsters, and the last third being the monsters kicking ass and taking names. The buildup is good, the anticipation is good, and the payoff is - mostly - deservedly fun.
As a side note, at this point, if you know your memes, there’s a shot of a particular Air Force airplane in flight, during which you WILL say “Let me sing you the brrrrt of my people.” As a long-time fan of that airplane, I highly approve.
That payoff, though, is as close as you can get to the same payoff of the game. I don’t believe that every adaptation needs to follow the source exactly. I’m fine with changes ... as long as they respect the thing that makes the original worthwhile in the first place.
Rampage does. In spades. It’s not impenetrable to non-players. You don’t have to know a damn thing about the game to watch the movie. But it’s a movie about monsters, buildings, and fucking huge destruction, and the fun you can have when you bring them all together. The goddamn SEARS TOWER falls down during the course of the film. A giant wolf jumps through one building to get to another one. A mutant crocodile tail-whomps a whole bunch of Army APCs into the next area code.
This is not Super Mario Bros., which takes the game and pees on it. This is not Mortal Kombat, which takes the game and turns it into a pale imitation of Enter the Dragon. It’s not Street Fighter, which ... doesn’t quite work but also doesn’t feature much street fighting at all. This is Rampage. Period. And it does what Rampage does. No subtext, no distractions, just an honest attempt to put a relatable human face on a movie that pretty much exists to wreck as many buildings as possible and eat as many people as possible while keeping a PG-13 rating or under.
I had a great time. I don’t think I’ll ever call it a classic, but it is so much fun (particularly in those motion-control seats. Really added to the fun) that it doesn’t matter. People who want sensitive human drama - yeah, not for you.
People who want giant monsters wrecking stuff?
Why aren’t you already in the theatres, dude?