WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for the film Rampage, which is currently screening in theaters.
There are few kinds of adaptations more maligned than the video game movie. While comics, books and television series have all enjoyed massive success in being adapted for the screen, video game movies have been pining for decades for that mysterious, quality film that finally merits they be taken seriously. Recent releases have made strides in this direction, chief among them being Brad Peyton’s Rampage, an adaptation of the 1986 arcade game developed by Midway Games. There is a reason for that. In excising much of its video game roots, Rampage becomes something entirely different -- a pretty decent movie, though not without its flaws.
In the original Rampage arcade game, players took control of one of three towering monsters: the gorilla George, a werewolf named Ralph or a Godzilla-like monster called Lizzie. The monsters tear through 43 American states and two Canadian provinces with the goal of destroying cities and eating as many citizens as possible along the way. Each monster was originally human, victims of the nefarious Scumlabs’ experimentation. George is transformed by an experimental vitamin supplement, Ralph becomes a werewolf after downing an untested food additive and Lizzie’s predicament becomes clear after a dip in a radiation-poisoned lake.
Rampage does away with much of those origins right from the beginning. The too-on-the-nose Scumlabs is no more, replaced by the forebodingly benign sounding Energyne corporation. While Energyne almost certainly traffics in hinky food additives and dodgy nutritional supplements, such elements do not play a role in the emergence of the three monsters. In the film, the monsters do not start off as people. Instead, they are merely animals infected with a virus the quickly edits their genes and causes them to get bigger, heal faster and become highly aggressive.
According to Peyton, there was an early script that followed the game’s storyline more closely, focusing on monsters that were originally people. That script was shot down as too unrealistic, and the movie is all the better for it. The story change allows Rampage to focus on its underlying narrative, which is the unchecked power of major corporations and the myriad ways human intervention seriously impacts our fragile ecosystems. Big movie monsters often act as personifications of contemporary fears, and in this way, Rampage feels ripped from the headlines. A film about disgruntled lab workers exposed to crazy chemicals and turned into ravenous beasts holds its own popcorn flick appeal, but would seriously lack modern relevance and, given the fact that the monsters themselves are probably going to eat a person or two, could make the creatures far less sympathetic. There is only so much pity an audience can have for a cannibal the size of a skyscraper, after all.