It’s fascinating how much expectations factor into our enjoyment of any given film. If something meets our expectations, we’re content, exceeds them and we’re ecstatic. Far too often the Movie Hype Machine cranks out so many thrilling tidbits and trailers that nothing can live up to the manufactured expectations. Or in the case of adaptations, our normally objective mind has been tainted by experiences with the source material. (à la “Tomb Raider” and “Ready Player One”) With this in mind, how could a movie based on a coin-op arcade game with a bare-bones storyline be worth watching? Especially when there are so many lore-rich games that spawn awful films?
First and foremost, Dwayne Johnson once again proves that he can elevate the enjoyment factor of any movie. His charisma is hard to top, and he’s able to couple it with such sincerity that you believe whatever he says, even if it’s “I’m was special forces, now I’m a primatologist.” He’s joined by other top-notch actors who fully invest in the silly characters they portray, whether they be a cold-blooded research exec (Malin Akerman) or a full-on-Texas-cowboy-Homeland-Security-Agent complete with flashy pearl-handled-chrome-plated-1911 and embossed leather holster (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) While their performances are a lot of fun, the only one to match the Rock’s screen presence is the Albino Gorilla “George”(Jason Liles), who is by far the best CGI ape this side of Andy Serkis. The filmmakers succeeded in finding the very difficult balance between the animal and humanistic sides of George which allows him to be both intimidating and funny. With everyone else playing their characters straight-faced, George is the one with the biggest sense of humor.
A benefit of having virtually zero backstory to work with is the five credited writers were free to make up whatever ridiculous plot they could think up. They even tossed out the game’s human-to-monster transformations in lieu of a convoluted story where Genetic Editing has been classified as a Weapon of Mass Destruction, and so illegal experiments are now conducted in space. This nonsense actually lends to some great moments in the film, starting with an unexpected opening sequence that could have been lifted from “Life” outtakes. The art department also clearly had a great time designing the other two creatures, each with a few surprises of their own.
“Rampage” works at a film because it’s honest about what it is. Everyone involved knew they were making a “dumb” video game movie. There are no pretensions of grandeur, instead, they allowed themselves to have fun, and this allowed to flashes of creativity that usually aren’t seen in movies of this nature. It’s possible my preconceived notions have betrayed me, but “Rampage” the movie is more fun than the game it’s based on.