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Parody culture is quickly realising it can’t keep up with the realities of pop culture. While some shows and the like keep trying to make jokes about how you can essentially attach the Rock to any random IP and a walk away with a bankable film, their attempts to take it to comedic extremes tend to look quaint compared to emerging reality. This really solidified* right around the time an unwanted Jumanji sequel with a trailer everyone hated and featuring the Rock playing a boy trapped in the Rock’s body, made more money than a Justice League film and looks like it could crack 900 million. And then there’s Rampage…
*since originally starting to write this piece, the trailer and indeed existence of Skyscraper has emerged. Thus proving there is no deranged peak reality cannot one-up as far the Rock is concerned.
Based on a vaguely remembered video game franchise from the 80s, Rampage stars the Rock as the friend of a big monkey that becomes even bigger thanks to Bad Military and now has to fight a giant flying wolf to save the day. Now if that sounds so deranged and stupid that it could only come from a video game, well, it is. But it’s also worse than that because in the Rampage games you play as the monsters and only win when the city is leveled. So this is the best plot legitimate film people could come up with when faced with the task of adapting. Now, this piece was originally supposed to be a look at the shear weirdness of adapting a functionally plot-less game into a film that sounded like a four-year-old’s stream of consciousness sugar high. And that’s a bit like staring into the sun. But in considering it; could there be method to this madness?
First of all, let’s consider the closest thing to precedent this situation has; movies based on board-games. There’s about as much narrative on display in the average game of Battleship as there is here so the comparison at least holds together conceptually. The difference with the likes of Battleship or Ouija though is that as brands, they are so ingrained in the public subconscious that that sweet tang of late-capitalism familiarity, and comfort of consuming the safe and known could be scratched. Plus it’s easy to see how to build the bones of a story around those. (Ditto that Monopoly film they’ve been genuinely trying to make for what seems like forever.) The Emoji Movie could present a better argument as it based on an abstract concept that they had to bolt a story to. But here again – and like the Magic 8 Ball film, yes really, that they’ve been trying to make – the key is the universality of the brand. There is a built in audience, deranged and subhuman as those people may be. The kids don’t know Rampage like they know emojis.
So if there’s no clean marketing reason for it to exist, let’s look at the bizarre logic that just about makes sense to the human mind in favour of Rampage existing. For years, gamers and critics alike have been pleading that you can’t just straight-forwardly adapt the stories of games as they are only one – and an often not vital – part of the experience. Here then, they’re trying to replicate the more visceral thrill, spectacle and, dare one say, experience of playing the game (something I’m in favour of) by focusing on the engaging destruction-porn of Rampage.
In some ways this is functionally more akin to watching someone else play the game, that someone else in this case being the main character who seems to be spitting out self-aware and slightly meta sarcasm as the ludicrous events unfold. And let’s be honest, who better to be hanging out with and listening to comment on a stupid game than the Rock? And given that the game’s plot – though as far as the trailers have so far revealed, not the film’s – involves the humans being giant, it’s not un-reasonable to guess we’ll see a building-sized Rock at some point in the final act; and if that doesn’t sound like a pile of money to you, then you don’t know people.
Still… picking a functionally plot-less, relatively obscure game to hang your newest “Rock vs. large disaster” film on (for it is basically a genre now) makes about as much sense as making a fourth Taken film and giving it the subtitle Max Payne. And yet, it feels like a begrudgingly positive development that they’re adapting games with a premise which they’re barely even attempting to justify the existence of. Because it wasn’t that long ago that was going the other way, and TOO much thought was being put into such narratively bereft properties (looking at you Super Mario Bros). So on balance, I’ll take the film where the Rock’s giant monkey friend trips over a school.