It had to be a coincidence. There was no way, I thought, that there was a full-length movie coming out for the summer season based on a video game. Not this game.
To be fair, there’s plenty of franchises that have had movies, and fairly successful ones at that. Tomb Raider is probably the best example of this, now coming back for round two with Alicia Vikander taking over as Lara Croft. Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat, and Silent Hill have all seen varying levels of cinematic (or direct to video) glory. There was a horrible Mario Brothers movie in 1993, a film so bad that star Bob Hoskins called it the worst experience of his career. There’s another Mario movie in the works, and hopefully, it won’t attempt to limbo that low bar. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within in 2001 was a fantastic case study in the Uncanny Valley.
Many franchises, from Halo to Metal Gear to Legend of Zelda, all borrow heavily from cinematic conceits to weave their elaborate storylines. But that was where my misgivings were coming from. These games all had one thing in common: plot and storyline, loose though they may sometimes be. Some would argue that the writing for games like Final Fantasy or Metroid is better than most of what Hollywood churns out. Again, these games have well-written scripts, plot arcs, characters with actual motivation. These games are not Rampage.
Rampage was released by Midway in 1986, during the glory days of the American Arcade. The concept was simple enough: you picked a monster; a mutated victim of mysterious toxic sludge or ooze or experimental vitamins. It was the era of real-life environmental disasters like Love Canal and countless others, paving the way for creatures of the imagination like The Toxic Avenger. Glowing green ooze was everywhere.
Monster selection complete, you proceeded to smash your way through buildings in progressively more intricate and difficult levels. At its heart, Rampage is an absolutely timeless quarter-sucking button masher where the goal of the game is to destroy cities and eat as many things as possible. There were power-ups like hotdogs and pizza, pitfalls like poison, but the real treat was always grabbing a wriggling little human and popping it into your 8-bit maw. This is not a game involving human interest, drama or any sort of traditional character development. Rather than watching a Saturday Monster Movie Matinee, for a quarter you could live it. It’s now 2018, and here comes the Rock, in his chiseled Pacific Rim charm to make us feel ambivalent about the whole thing.
In a world where someone thought films like the Emoji Movie and Pixels were a good idea, we shouldn’t be surprised. Video games are franchises potentially ripe for the picking. In fact, the Rock, with his self-effacing humor (ie; accepting the Golden Razzie for Baywatch or challenging Avengers to a “Rumble” in the box office), is the perfect choice for a movie that is trying to paint the erstwhile marauding George as a sympathetic character. That might honestly be more believable than the obvious gym habit of the Rock’s character, primatologist Davis Okoye, that we’re supposed to take in stride.
The Rock certainly has a history of movies in this vein: Doom, G.I. Joe and even the re-boot of Jumanji are all under the same strange umbrella of video-game and cartoon franchise mashups. Given the general lack of arcades in the US (there’s only about 2,500 for the entire country) and our ever-shortening post-modern memories, it’s fairly safe to say that many potential theater-goers are unaware they might be in line to see an adaptation of a video game from 1986. With a PG-13 rating, the target demographic is definitely heavily favoring moviegoers who weren’t even alive when the game was first released. Or re-released. Or re-re-released as Rampage World Tour in 1997. Or even the most recent re-re-re-release in 2006.
This isn’t highbrow entertainment; Imdb.com, as of March 8, 2018, lists the plot as “Davis Okoye and his bestfriend [sic] white gorilla fight monsters in a big city.”
The Rock is confident that the film will dodge the video game curse that befell Doom. Director Brad Peyton has said the film will “…be a lot more emotional, a lot scarier and a lot more real than you’d expect” (Source), the draw is not the emotional core of the movie. Whether it transcends expectations or pulls the heartstrings, the draw is the giant monsters destroying a city. 2014’s Godzilla reboot may have largely been a dud, but it still made a few hundred million. Cloverfield, while a polarizing film, made a huge impact with a significantly smaller budget. Monster movies are always going to be popular, and given the suspension of disbelief required to sit through a film populated with gigantic creatures, maybe the fact that Rampage is based on an arcade classic isn’t a bad thing. Hopefully, the experience is worth more than a quarter. The Rock’s charm only goes so far.
Rampage comes out April 14th, recently bumped an additional week before Avengers.
Link to trailer here: Official Trailer #1