The long-heralded, just around the corner coming of the video game movie renaissance had two shots this year to finally get off the ground. The first shot came last month with the Tomb Raider reboot starring Alicia Vikander. That film fared far better than most video game movies critically, but it still underwhelmed given the talent involved and failed to ignite the box office. The second video game movie comes this month in the form of Rampage starring Mr. Blockbuster, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
Rampage is actually quite an interesting case of adaptation. If you look at video game properties that have been tapped for cinematic adaptation recently, they are titles that had a presence in the current zeitgeist. Tomb Raider was rebooted in 2013 and is receiving another entry later this year, Warcraft is always relevant and Assassin's Creed is a premier title almost annually. Rampage is uncommon in this regard, as it is not a current video game that enjoys a prominent position in today's gaming culture. It is for that reason that Rampage might be more poised for success than most video game adaptations. It is also the reason that a primer on the Rampage video game series is warranted.
I have to imagine that there is probably a sizable segment of the population that doesn't even know that this upcoming movie starring The Rock is based on a video game. Even those who do may be too young to have played the games or just aren't terribly familiar with them. So with that in mind, here is a rundown on everything you need to know about the Rampage video game franchise before seeing the movie.
The Rampage video game franchise made its debut in 1986 as an arcade game from developer Bally Midway. Like many popular arcade games in that era, Rampage also made its way to a slew of home consoles and platforms, including the Sega Master System, the NES and several Atari systems. It was actually this original Rampage game that Dwayne Johnson played in arcades as a kid and that fandom inspired him to be a part of the feature film adaptation. The Rampage franchise took a decade-long hiatus until 1997 when Rampage World Tour returned the series to arcades as well as home consoles. Bucking naming conventions as the third game in the series is Rampage 2: Universal Tour, which arrived in 1999. This was followed up with Rampage Through Time in 2000, Rampage Puzzle Attack in 2001 and finally Rampage: Total Destruction in 2006.
The interesting thing about this film adaptation and the reason that it is kind of a unique choice is that the last game in the series was released over a decade ago. I think this actually works in the movie's favor as the games are not current and though they have their fans, this is not a beloved title where faithfulness and authenticity will elicit strong emotions. It is also cool in that it wasn't picked out for adaptation because it is of the moment or trendy. Hopefully that means that it is being adapted because there was a good idea about how to do so.
With the exception of 2001's Rampage Puzzle Attack, the Rampage series has pretty much maintained the same basic formula over the decades. You get dropped off in some city, somewhere in the universe at some point in history, and you do what giant monsters do best... and its not infrastructure development. When in Rome, you destroy Rome. I sort of take it that as a giant thing, you can't stand the presence of other giant things like buildings that attempt to challenge your giantness. You can work alone or cooperatively with other players to gain points by leveling a city and fighting off the military that tries to stop you. You could replenish your health by eating humans and seeking out helpful items like food and money. But there were also items that can hurt you like bullets and toasters.
This silliness has to be referenced in the movie. If The Rock were to just throw a toaster at the giant wolf only for it to prove useless it would be a great nod to the original game. The monsters in the original game could work together, but they could also fight and it looks like we'll be getting a fair bit of that here as the monsters will be pitted against each other. George and The Rock look to be facing off with the other monsters and possibly the military to defend the city.
The most memorable characters in all of the Rampage games are part of what's known as The Wrecking Crew. This group consists of George the giant ape, Lizzie the dinosaur/lizard and Ralph the wolf. In addition to having the most unthreatening names ever, you can see how these characters were references to King Kong, Godzilla and a giant werewolf. These aren't even the weirdest characters either. Over the years the Rampage video games introduced more and more giant monsters to make things interesting. They ranged from characters like Boris the rhinoceros and Ruby the lobster to Jackalopes and Yetis to demons and aliens. Needless to say, in a game with little story featuring fun giant monsters, the human characters weren't especially interesting but the movie looks to be making up in that department with Dwayne Johnson and Co.
I feel like the trailers for Rampage have shown us a good portion of the movie but I have to wonder if something is being held back. The crocodile taking on the role of Lizzie was glimpsed at first but has now been fully revealed so it would be cool if there is another monster being kept out of the marketing. While The Wrecking Crew are the main attraction I wouldn't be surprised if this film maybe included an Easter egg or post-credits scene teasing something fun like Curtis the giant rat.
It probably goes without saying but the Rampage games are not Mass Effect. The story is pretty simplistic. In the games humans undergo mutations, becoming these giant animal-like monsters due to science experiments conducted by, wait for it... ScumLabs. Yes, fictional villainous organizations of the 1980's favored a certain forthrightness with their intentions (see: the Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem). The monsters then rampage around the world sometimes taking out their rage on ScumLabs facilities in the process. There are even instances where the monsters defend the planet from aliens. It is clear that the movie will have some dastardly organization conducting some kind of experiments called "Project Rampage", which Malin Ackerman's character can be seen talking about in the trailers. There's definitely a government presence too with Jeffrey Dean Morgan's smarmy Agent Russell or 'Negan in a suit' who seems to know something about what's going on.
The big difference in the movie is that whatever nefarious science experiments are being conducted, they are affecting animals and not people. I am curious if this is just the first step in a larger plot and what the end goal is. ScumLabs was reckless, stupid and greedy in the games, but the villains here look to have a more clear agenda. The nice thing about these games not having deep, complex plots is that it allows for a lot of flexibility on the part of this film to take the core conceit of giant animal-monsters and build around that with a story that works in the medium. Perhaps the bare bones story from the games is what will finally allow a film to break the video game movie curse.