As far as gaming adaptations go, Rampage is easy enough. Already borrowing from Atomic Age horror and kaiju smash-’em-ups, the games are relentless id. Pick a monster, wreck a city, fight the military, gobble up the populace. Rinse, repeat. Tapped for a pre-summer release meant to tide moviegoers before the blockbusters arrive, Brad Peyton’s movie comes alive most when it leans in to this gleeful misanthropy. Even saddled with a focus-grouped script which reiterates the close bond of Special Forces-turned-primatologist Davis (Dwayne Johnson) and mutating, rapidly-growing albino gorilla George for the attention-addled, there’s an impression no one involved likes people very much. Davis is protective, occasionally kind towards pupils and associates, bystanders, basically anyone he has an obligation to. Stripped of that, he spits invective at horndogs, feds, even the troops. A second act built around maneuvering George and two other monsters to disaster flick-friendly Chicago is capped with Davis articulating his distaste. In flashback, Davis describes George’s mother being butchered so her parts could be used for ashtrays and how he guns down the poachers responsible. Even at his most puppy dog loveable and charming, the Rock can’t seem to shake a casual contempt for his fellow man. He’s only along on this nonsense for his CGI animal companion.
With that as their emotional core, Peyton and his writer’s room seem to take cues from the more glib, knowing end of 80s horror scripts. An early fight between a team of black ops heavies (led by quasi-star Joe Manganiello, an anti-Johnson) and a massive wolf could easily have been inspired by Chuck Russell and Frank Darabont’s The Blob remake. It sets up, then flippantly pulps, an antagonist to establish the stakes, not giving a fuck about formula. Rampage then spends the bulk of its time–when it’s not hiding the budget behind grainy night-vision or tracking its stars avoiding the monsters–escalating this kind of Michael Bay callousness. Man and beast alike are ripped apart, impaled, devoured, even squashed under debris in a brazen subversion of MPAA ratings.