Review: 'Rampage' Is the 'Citizen Kane' of Video Game Movies

Christian Ziolkowski ’20 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
To say expectations for Rampage were low would be an understatement as big as George the gorilla.
For the past three decades, Hollywood has been mining video games as inspiration for films. Everything from Super Mario Bros. to Assassin’s Creed has been adapted for the silver screen, often with major talent involved. Not a single one has been positively received.
So yes, Rampage had a very low bar to clear. But unlike its 30+ predecessors, it actually cleared it. It is safe to say that Dwayne Johnson and director Brad Peyton have made the first good video game movie.

Dwayne Johnson and Naomie Harris in Rampage. Photo Credit: ASAP Entertainment and New Line Cinema.
Johnson stars as Davis Okoye, a primatologist who has spent his life protecting animals, to the point where he finds it hard to bond with humans. His best friend is George, an albino gorilla that he rescued from poachers and now raises in a wildlife preserve. But his world is turned upside down when a series of meteors hit the earth and expose animals, including George, to a dangerous experimental drug. This drug, developed by the evil corporation Energyne causes animals to grow at alarming rates and become extremely aggressive.
In addition to George, the meteor affects a wolf in Wyoming and a giant lizard. The three beasts converge in Chicago, where Davis must search for an antidote and save George before the monsters destroy the entire city.
Rampage. Photo Credit: ASAP Entertainment and New Line Cinema.
Rampage is based on the 1986 arcade game of the same name, in which players take control of giant animals and try to destroy cities. It lacks the narrative complexities of more recent games, but perhaps that is why the movie works so well. Without an elaborate mythology, the filmmakers were free to treat it as mere inspiration, rather than sacred source material. The biggest change from the game is the story of how the animals transformed. Rather than exposure to nuclear waste, as in the original Rampage, they’re the victims of an experiment gone wrong. In fact, a Rampage game machine is seen in the offices of Energyne, and the experimental drug is called “Project Rampage.” It is almost as if the company was attempting to create a real-life version of the game.
Rampage is far from perfect. There are some ridiculous gaps in logic (why were the drugs in space to begin with?). But it keeps you entertained. The story never slows down, the fights never seem gratuitous, and the special effects are always impressive. The friendship between Davis and George provides a surprisingly strong emotional core that will prevent the movie from being labeled as “dumb fun.”
Dwayne Johnson in Rampage. Photo Credit: ASAP Entertainment and New Line Cinema.
The multitude of critically-panned movies based on video games raised the question of whether the two mediums are incompatible. After all, gaming is an inherently interactive experience, and watching a movie is as passive as it gets. Maybe they are just two different mediums that don’t need to mix. Unfortunately, Rampage does little to answer this question. It’s a great summer movie, but it is derived from a very simple game, and it abandons much of the original story. All it took from the game are the title and three cool monsters.
But every movement has to start somewhere. Rampage may not have blazed the trail for hundreds of excellent video game movies, but it is the first good one. And that’s certainly a start.
Overall Grade: A-
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