**/**** Image A Sound A Extras B
starring Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jeffrey Dean Morgan
screenplay by Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal and Adam Sztykiel
directed by Brad Peyton
by Walter Chaw Silent Hill is still the best video-game movie, but points awarded to Brad Peyton for taking a flyer at adapting an old side-scrolling punchfest and giving it a standard sub-genre narrative. Rampage is the same kind, if not the same quality, of adaptation as the first Pirates of the Caribbean: an idea that makes no sense on paper that's unexpectedly decent in execution. Anyway, Rampage is the standard eco-horror conceit of evil scientists trying to engineer something evil for the military-industrial complex, which underestimates the controllability (and the evil) of the thing they're trying to make and thus endanger a lot of people/the world with their greed/godless curiosity. On the other side, there's beefy primatologist Davis (Dwayne Johnson, reuniting with San Andreas helmer Peyton) and a disgraced, formerly corrupt scientist named Dr. Kate (Naomie Harris), who enter into an uneasy partnership with government spook Agent Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to counteract the Frankenstein that's been unleashed. Said Frankenstein being a growth agent or something that causes a wolf, an alligator, and Davis's best friend, George, an albino gorilla, to grow to gargantuan proportions--and become nigh invulnerable, to boot. Fans of the arcade game will note that this is faithful casting; they will also recognize the building-punching and helicopter-biting.
There's not much there there to Rampage; it's everything you expect it to be plus a soulful Gremlins-style monologue from Davis where he recaps George's childhood poacher trauma (which we see in partial flashback). More interesting is that the picture appears in the middle of a cycle wherein genre flicks are enjoying a resurgence, probably in response to our social collapse and completely justified hatred and suspicion of our government. The evil industrialist siblings, Claire and Brett (Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy), inevitably remind of the despotic, inbred Trump clan just by proximity if not much else, given how Claire and Brett appear at least to be passingly competent and vaguely human. The emergence of The Rock as an Eighties-style brawny action hero is interesting, too, in that it suggests that this nostalgia we're seeing for the '80s in horror films, especially, owes to more than the simple fact that there's no need to address the cell-phone issue in period pieces--the '80s were the last time we were this terrified of our deluded, perversely over-matched leadership and the impending threat of nuclear annihilation because of it. Hooray! Rampage is what it is but the fact of it is not without fascination.
For the un-swayably curious, Rampage contains some passably decent monster action (though not as much as you might hope) and a few startling moments of violence. And Johnson is a star, of course, as if there were ever any doubt. He turns down easy sex with an intern, making him a hero to women, and he good-naturedly teases lesser males, thus making us feel comfortable and accepted in the embrace of what he himself refers to in this film as his "big arms." He works in movies like this and the also-surprisingly-good Skyscraper because he looks like an action figure and, indeed, there are action figures of him that look somehow more realistic than Johnson himself. (Call it the "Howie Long effect.") The thing about Johnson is that he clearly has the potential to do more and teases this in each of his pictures. (He showed a lot of it in Pain & Gain.) He doesn't need to do more, mind--but he could. Anyway, Rampage: a programmer that shouldn't be but is, so there you have it.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Warner brings Rampage to Blu-ray in a 2.40:1, 1080p transfer that has a cinematic finish even though the film was shot digitally. At this level of fidelity, I confess that whatever deficiencies there are in the CGI become pretty glaring, but the movie looks expensive regardless so maybe that's the ultimate barometer nowadays. Textural detail impresses and dynamic range is excellent. The image is well-compressed despite the movie taking up less than half of the dual-layer disc; I will say that when the action gets heavy at the end, it can be difficult to follow for all the motion blur, though that's probably a feature, not a bug. The 7.1 Dolby TrueHD core of the accompanying Dolby Atmos track is booming and uses the discrete soundstage to its fullest potential. That dialogue remains crisp and articulate is something of a feat. This is a showcase presentation that doesn't leave the separate 4K UHD release a ton of room for improvement.
"Not Just a Game Anymore" (6 mins.) is a featurette focused on how revolutionary the arcade version of "Rampage" was, interviewing select members of the cast and crew along with the game's co-designer, Brian Colin. Peyton, oddly enough, admits he was never that into the game, which is actually a refreshing change of pace from the usual disingenuous junket line about how the source material was their mother, confessor, first sexual experience, priest, and favourite teacher. Providing filler is behind-the-scenes stuff highlighting greenscreen work and set construction, as well as the dapper director in a cardigan peering at stuff through his digital camera. I did appreciate Johnson saying he signed on back when the script was merely the idea of giant monsters "destroying shit." Ten minutes' worth of deleted scenes offer more arguments between the Trump siblings that seem to further the idea that Don Jr. is some sort of mental degenerate; a couple of outtakes from a post-city destruction sequence with tearful reunions (one of which includes a Donald Trump lookalike so, yeah, cut that fucker); and finally a bit with San Andreas' Alexandra Daddario in a bikini again. It's a bit much but who's complaining? A 3-minute gag reel is people flubbing lines and laughing. sometimes simultaneously. Can I just say that Harris needs a franchise built around her already?
"Rampage Actors in Action" (11 mins.) is about how hard it was to shoot this film. I mean, not Apocalypse Now or Aguirre brutal. Not brutal at all, really, when you think about it. We discover that the cast volunteered to be strapped up in harnesses and swung around on cranes and that there was "real" training for the military dudes. Yes, Rampage joins Casualties of War and Full Metal Jacket in the pantheon of deep Method legend. (No, it doesn't.) "Trio of Destruction" (10 mins.) shows exactly how much the production of Rampage utilized greenscreen and computer animation. Glimpses of the concept art are fine though by this time you've seen enough of it and seen it enough. (At least give WETA credit for not doing another Cave Troll thing this time around.) "Attack on Chicago" (10 mins.) is not the latest NRA ad but instead covers the narrative set-up for the final battle sequence as well as WETA's recreation of the Windy City in a digital environment. WETA artists are interviewed. They say nothing substantive. Lastly, in "Bringing George to Life" (12 mins.), we see the ubiquitous Terry Notary teaching Jason Liles how to do mo-cap as a gorilla. While I want to talk more about recent history and Notary, let's leave it at how sweet Notary seems as a human being and how beautiful his ape pantomime is. Talk of performance psychology touches on the idea that playing a primate requires digging deep to discover what we are at our essence. We're just monkeys with pants, man. The more we accept that, the closer we'll get to solving some fundamental problems. It's a cool piece. Trailers for The Meg and Tomb Raider '18 cue up on startup whether you like it or not, while DVD and digital copies of Rampage are bundled with the BD.