In the 1980s Midway arcade game Rampage, players controlled a giant ape named George, a dragon named Lizzie, or a werewolf named Ralph and scored points based on how much damage they could inflict upon skyscrapers across North America. You could reach into window, pull out a person, and gobble them down for bonus points.
And that’s, uh, about all there is to it. Minus anything in the way of story, the franchise hasn’t travelled well over the years, with the last entry released in 2006 on the PS2 to sour reviews.
That’s enough, apparently, for a big screen version 12 years later starring Dwayne Johnson – not as the giant ape, bus as the kindly zoologist who takes care of George, at normal size, in a wildlife refuge in San Diego.
Filling in the gaps left by the original material – like, say, just who are these monsters, and how did they get so big, anyway? – Rampage goes through 70 minutes of exposition before the creatures start to climb a Chicago skyscraper.
The final 30 minutes of the movie deliver the kind of thing you expect from your Rampage movie, which happens to be the same city-levelling 9/11-like imagery that every other blockbuster in 2018 ends with. Transformers: Dark of the Moon took it to the Windy City in more memorable fashion back in 2010.
I did like how the movie tells us that, unfortunately, only 50% of Chicago has been evacuated. Yes, that falling skyscraper smashing into surroundings was most probably very bad news for somebody down there. Not like in Pacific Rim: Uprising or Batman v Superman, which claim entire populations have been evacuated so their audience can enjoy the city destruction without moral dilemma.
But wait: how did we get here?
The answer, of course, is… CRISPR, the gene-editing science that was all the rage when the script for Rampage was compiled three years ago. Take a trip back in time and listen to this Radiolab podcast, or go ahead and watch Rampage, which sums it up nicely: when experimental CRISPR gases are inhaled, test subjects grow to enormous size, become aggressive, and gain superpowers. Overnight.
Because of the dangers in CRISPR research, experiments can only be conducted in space. But that’s bad news for the astronaut-scientists in Rampage’s opening sequence, who get devoured by a giant rat as the space station explodes.
Fortunately for the evil corporation behind the CRISPR research, the test samples have been engineered to withstand being blown up in space and conveniently crash landing back in the USA. But they haven’t been engineered to withstand being approached by local wildlife, and release their experimental gases if you’re in inhalation range.
Bad news for George in San Diego, and Ralph, a curious Wyoming wolf. And just like Chekhov’s gun, if an alligator eats a CRISPR test sample in the Everglades in act one, that alligator will become a monster and destroy Chicago in act three.
(Note: if you’re playing a drinking game, only take a sip each time someone in the movie mentions CRISPR; don’t down the whole shot, or you’ll be drunk by the end of the first act.)
Heading the evil corporation are a brother-sister duo played by Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy; the latter amusingly mimics John Glover’s performance from Gremlins 2: The New Batch. Including luring the giant creatures to their headquarters in Chicago, I was confounded as to their motivation with every action.
Johnson’s zoologist is out to save the country, and also (aww) his friend George, with the help of CRISPR scientist played by Naomie Harris and a good ol’ boy Texas government agent played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, doing his very best Tommy Lee Jones impersonation.
While surprisingly dull and rather rough going for over an hour, Rampage, ultimately, delivers what one expects by the end. Director Brad Peyton previously made San Andreas with star Johnson and, well, swap out the earthquakes for some monsters and you know what to expect here.
Additional note for animal lovers: there’s a surprising amount of violence inflicted on the oversized creatures here who, CGI or not, take a great deal of pummeling during the film’s climactic scenes.