WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Rampage, currently in theaters, and various installments of the Rampage video game franchise.
Every giant-monster movie needs a reliable namesake -- a large, often mutated, beast capable of punching the Empire State Building into oblivion, if necessary. But no kaiju is complete without a decent backstory. These massive creatures often act as personifications of legitimate human anxieties, making their road to squishing buildings just as important as the building-squishing itself. In that way, a kaiju’s story is a time capsule containing a specific era’s deeply held fears. So, it is not surprising that, when a movie monster gets updated years after its debut, its backstory also undergoes a revamp.
Such is the case with director Brad Peyton’s Rampage, a movie about a primatologist who goes on a city-wrecking tear with his very big gorilla buddy, both of whom are trying to stop two other, similarly afflicted giant monsters (a crocodile and wolf) from permanently leveling Chicago. The primatologist, Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson), first comes by trouble when a strange object falls from the sky, infecting his best friend, the gorilla George. George starts to increase in size overnight, the result of illegal genetic editing by the sinister corporation Energyne. The two other monsters, originally a normal crocodile and an unassuming wolf, are similarly changed by Energyne’s predilection for playing God.
So, does this story stack up to the 1986 Rampage arcade game released by Midway Games? Not in the least! Nearly everything about the story has been changed, save for one key detail. There are three main monsters in both versions: a gorilla named George, a crocodile named Lizzie and a wolf named Ralph. But, yeah, pretty much everything else has been altered for the screen. While the monsters might be the anchor that connects the film’s narrative to the game’s, they are also one of its most divergent elements.
In the film, George, Lizzie and Ralph have always been animals. At one point, they were a normal gorilla, a normal crocodile and a normal wolf. That is not the case in the original game. In the arcade classic Rampage, all three monsters were originally normal people. They weren’t the victims of genetic editing, either. They were all changed by relatively benign things. Except Lizzie, who got the short end of the stick.
George was transformed from human to rampaging ape by an experimental vitamin; Ralph was turned into an enormous werewolf by an experimental food additive; and Lizzie was morphed into a Godzilla-like kaiju by a radioactive lake. Yes, George and Ralph were turned into monsters by Centrum Silver and weird food coloring, while Lizzie fell into a lake crackling with radiation. Yikes. Either way, the culprit was not a company called Energyne, either. In fact, Energyne sounds downright placid compared to the main antagonist in the Rampage video games: Scumlabs.
Scumlabs remained relatively ambiguous until Rampage: World Tour, the 1997 follow-up to Rampage that introduced the first named Scumlabs employees: Dr. Elizabeth Veronica, a scientist,, and Eustace DeMonic, the company’s CEO. These caricatures never appear in Rampage the movie, but Malin Akerman’s Claire Wyden, CEO of Energyne, and Jake Lacy’s Brett Wyden, her second-in-command, fill a similar role (although neither of them turns into a massive, fleshy final boss).
One final difference between the monsters in the game versus those in the movie is a pretty basic one: intelligence. The game’s rationale for the three beasts tearing up wide swaths of the world was that they were disgruntled workers terribly mistreated by a bad company. In the movie, the monsters are just acting out of instinct until they are lured by a homing beacon to Chicago. There is no murderous intent in the heart of the film’s creatures, only the natural instincts that served them in the wild. And genetic editing -- lots of genetic editing.
In theaters now, Brad Peyton’s Rampage stars Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Åkerman, Jake Lacy and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.