There is a certain perspective afforded by spending several decades watching movies. Over fifty years or so there is ample opportunity to become familiar with every genre and most of the potential variations. Still, all of this cinematic experience has a starting point, typically, our introduction to motion pictures as a major form of entertainment began when we were about ten or eleven. In the fifties and sixties one of the most popular types of films was the creature feature. Fundamentally it is a hybrid of several types of movies including action, horror and science fiction. Members of the millennia generation came of age after the proliferation of high tech special effects and the widespread availability of streaming video. Back during our childhood, a major market like New York City, had only seven television channels. Video games, tablets and smart phones were decades in the future. Going to the neighborhood movie theater was the main source of entertaining escapism. This is were the appreciation of the creature feature enters the scenario. Of course, without the modern techniques and extremely limited budgets the results were laughably cheap. For example, in one notable flick a gorilla was obviously a man in a costume, the seam torn exposing the shirt underneath. In contrast, the film under consideration here, ‘Rampage’, the simian main character is flawlessly rendered in 3D high definition. Even if the effects were considerably beneath the contemporary standards our generation would be prone to overlook the deficiencies and do our best to relax and enjoy the movie. Members of the modern audience would exhibit than distain precluding any potential for fun. What is most note worthy about ‘Rampage; is that ultimately it is a reasonably entertaining Saturday night popcorn flick. It is possible to temporarily disengage the higher rational functions of your brain and let that inner ten-year-old take over for a couple of hours.
Ever since people huddled around a campfire, entertaining themselves with scary stories, the premise has always been derived from whatever prevalent unknown currently pervaded the zeitgeist. Ancient times utilized various Parthenos of deities. In turn through the ages electricity and nuclear technology were used as the basis to bring hope for the future and create monsters that threaten humanity. Science constantly moves forward brining renewed fodder for our nightmares. Currently, the latest technology offering the two-edge sword of progress is genetic manipulation. The news is filled with controversy over GMOs, Genetically Modified Organisms. Many overlook the possibility of alleviating global hunger over the potential for engendering unimaginable monsters, ‘Rampage’ is constructed with the classic tropes and archetypes of the creature features we enjoyed as kids. Replacing corpses reanimated by electricity or insects grown to gigantic proportions by exposure to radiation.
Orbiting the earth is a research facility owned and operated by Energyne, a global company engaged in bleeding edge research into genetic manipulation. Ostensibly the research is targeting ways to cure disease and promote health and longevity. Certainly, that would ensure a lucrative revenue stream but corporations in the modern creature feature a high-tech company is a front for ‘evil Incorporated’. Their nefarious, covert objective is to weaponize common animals using CRISPER, a technology that allows scientist to alter the DNA of an animal adding and deleting a wide variety of traits. The objective was to produce a type of super slider serum but without the moral compass of the MCU’s Dr. Abraham Erskine. The research was deemed so dangerous that the preliminary animal testing was relegated to an orbital research platform. If those precautions were adequate, then this would be an extremely brief story. There is a catastrophic failure jettisoning the research serum to the earth. There it found its way to a couple of animals. The subject pertinent to the narrative is an albino gorilla, George, played via performance capture by Jason Liles. He was rescued by a Primatologist, Davis Okoye (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson). Not only is he an expert in his field, specializing in taking down poachers. To justify the adrenaline-fueled action sequences Davis covalently was a highly decorated and expertly trained former member of the US Army Special Forces. In many cases former professional wrestlers moving over to acting, their command of the artform is noticeably less than top shelf. Mr. Johnson has taken a page from the career path of Arnold Schwarzenegger, alternating action roles with more dramatic parts, and most importantly, comedy. By portraying such a variety of characters, he has built up a =n expertise in assuming different personalities, that has enabled him to grow beyond the one-dimensional archetype attributed to action stars previously from physically centric professions. Mr. Johnson infuses a relatable personality to Davis that is crucial to his interactions. Of course, this relates to his chemistry with his female co-star. Naomie Harris, playing the scientist that developed the original, beneficial technology, Dr. Kate Caldwell. This level of believability as a man possessing both the brawn of a giant and the intelligence of a scientist. Without these qualities the audience would be unable to accept his playful, caring relationship with George. That translates to the viewer accepting George as a sympatric character allowing the audience to become emotionally invested in his plight and the potential consequences.
Considering the level of special effects available to filmmakers. The construction of a creature feature is relatively straightforward. The budget allocated for this film was approximately $120 million which allows for the level of believability achieved. However, this does not differentiate it from the myriad of other monster movies. Thankfully for true fans of the genre ‘Rampage’ delivers an unexpected greater texture to the narrative. The foundation of the story is familiar. An evil defense contractor headed by a callus, financially driven villain. The protagonists is stalwart, dedicated individual willing to go the extra mile to save the day. The difference is in the attention paid to the emotional development and progression of the various character arcs. The specific skill set of Mr. Johnson permits the film to exceed the expected results. His performance was augmented by the requisite Government investigator Harvey Russell, expertly played by journeyman character actor, Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Most recently he became a household name a villain scarier than a zombie apocalypse. His part provides the proper balance, infusing a modicum comic relief while permitting a rational for the plot contrivances. A simple attempt to provide some modicum of exposition is typically the first causality in a creature feature screenplay. Taking the effort to flesh out the story bodes well for the Director, Brad Peyton. In his previous films similar stylistic choices were evident. It is a considerable advantage to his extensive experience directing Mr. Johnson in ‘Journey 2: The Mysterious Island’ and ‘San Andreas’. This streak will shortly be extended with the upcoming release of San Andreas 2'. A long-standing relationship between filmmaker and star has been recognized as greatly beneficial since the earliest days of the artform of cinema. The most important aspect of this collaboration is the essence of the creature feature remains intact. There are enough high-octane battle sequences to certify this as a better than usual monster movie. Considering the substantial damage inflicted on the city of Chicago, this movie has earned qualification as a disaster movie. Having seen all the Johnson/ Peyton films in 3D, it deserves noting that Mr. Peyton has a natural knack for the proper use of the illusion of depth. The 3D effects are never intrusive; they enhance the narrative rather than attempting to carry it. there is a sophistication to the use of this visual technique that adds to the enjoyment, never becoming intrusive. So, call some friends over for popcorn or pizza, hand out the 3D glasses an have some fun.