Movie adaptations of video games have historically proven to be dicey propositions. Ever since the “Super Mario Bros.” movie failed to live up to audience expectations in 1993, very few film translations of video game properties have been able to gain anything exceeding very modest praise, usually with the caveat that an attempt is decent, “for a video game movie.” One of the main reasons for this may be the difficulty of adapting something that derives its entertainment value from interactivity into something that is meant to be enjoyed passively. Often the makers of video game adaptations will attempt to reconcile this difference by fleshing out the world of the source material and by exploring the inner workings of protagonists who were originally designed as avatars for the player. However, this approach runs the risk of straying too far from what made the source material appealing in the first place, much as the “Super Mario Bros.” film went all-out with a dystopian satirical approach that bore little resemblance to the aesthetic of the original games.
Fans of the original “Rampage” arcade game will be glad to hear that while Brad Peyton’s film adaptation does strive to broaden the scope of the original game’s story, it also retains the main appeal of its source material: that watching giant monsters tear apart skyscrapers is pretty damn rad. There’s plenty of the metropolis-smashing action that makes the original game so fun to play, along with a perfectly serviceable — if extremely familiar — storyline that doesn’t get in the way of the good stuff. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as Davis Okoye, a world-weary primatologist who would rather hang out with his buddy George, an albino gorilla he rescued from poachers, than anyone else. But when George comes into contact with a mysterious substance that makes him aggressive, nearly invulnerable and ever-growing in size, Davis has to find a way to cure his best friend, keep him from causing too much damage and protect him from the military. Meanwhile, relentlessly smooth government operative Harvey Russel (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is on George’s trail, as well as a wolf and a crocodile who have come into contact with the same super-sizing substance.
For a film based on a conceit as simple as “monsters smash everything,” “Rampage” boasts a surprisingly deep roster of characters. There’s Naomie Harris as Dr. Kate Caldwell, a geneticist who used to work for the big evil company responsible for all the trouble, as well as Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy as Claire and Brett Wyden, the sibling CEO’s of said company. Harris seems a bit underserved by her role as a straight woman and love interest for Johnson, but she brings considerable charm to the part. Meanwhile, Akerman and Lacy ham it up as cartoonishly devious corporate villains who are only missing a pair of mustaches to twirl, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan absolutely devours large sections of scenery as the pistol-sporting, giant-belt-buckle-wearing, self-proclaimed cowboy Russel, complete with exaggerated southern drawl. However, the standout of the human cast is Johnson, who once again relies on the everyman likeability that contrasts so well with his Greek god physique to bring real emotion and drama to his friendship with George, a relationship that also benefits from some very impressive and expressive CG animation on George himself.
While the humans of “Rampage” all turn in fun and over-the-top performances, the real stars of the show are George the gorilla, Ralph the wolf and Lizzie the crocodile-dinosaur-warthog creature (Lizzie is never named in the film, but since George and Ralph both get to keep their names from the original game, one would think the same goes for the third member of the trio). The actual rampage sequences of “Rampage” are a blast; fans who came to see monsters smashing, battling and generally tearing it up will not be disappointed, and the climactic scenes are presented with a clear focus that allows the viewer to truly take in the scope of the destruction.
It’s debatable whether “Rampage” is quite good enough to escape out from under the old “good for a video game movie” qualifier. It’s ridiculously silly, frequently cliche, and occasionally the line between “cheesy on purpose for fun” and “just cheesy” becomes blurred. However, if you’re looking for something that captures the spirit of the original arcade game, or if you simply like watching stuff get smashed real good, “Rampage” has you covered.