Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
You may have played Rampage: The Video Game, but nothing will quite prepare you for its blockbusting cinematic iteration directed by Brad Peyton and his frequent collaborator, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. The dynamic duo are once again are delivering a ginormous disaster movie, being that RAMPAGE marks their third film together (JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH 2, SAN ANDREAS). However, there’s remarkable amount of heart behind this one, making it standout from the crowd.
In the film, Primatologist Davis Okoye’s (Johnson) friendship with albino gorilla George (mo-cap performance by Jason Liles) is put into jeopardy when George inhales a pathogen, altering his genetic DNA. These noxious fumes make him triple in size, but also give him an aggressive personality. As he breaks free and goes on a, well, rampage, heading towards Chicago with other affected gigantic creatures – like genetically-spliced flying wolf, yes, named Ralph, and prehistorically-enhanced croc Lizzie. It’s up to Davis and former geneticist Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) to try to deliver the anti-dote to George. Not only is this a crowd-pleasing fun factory with smashing action sequences, the sweet, loving relationship between The Rock and George is the driving force and the film’s beating heart. Get ready for a rollicking good time!
At the film’s recent Los Angeles press day, the cast and director spilled the beans on the behind-the-scenes fun on set.
9. The filmmakers did their research when it came to the animals. Johnson candidly said, “We consulted with the Dian Fossey Foundation for many, many months. That was probably the best part. I had the opportunity to go to the Atlanta Zoo and spend time with the gorillas and their primatologist to understand their behaviors, their emotions, their nuances. That was an amazing process for me. I also spent a little time in the Everglades where I spent a little time with an alligator.”
8. RAMPAGE was made in less time than SAN ANDREAS. Working under a time crunch is normal. Working under an even bigger time crunch on an effects-driven film is maybe a little less normal. Peyton said, “The movie was shot really fast. It was done in 55 days – 20 days less than SAN ANDREAS. We had six weeks less in post. For me, I was doing visual effects, the mix, the music all at the same time, which is not normal.” Needless to say, it’s a time constraint Peyton didn’t prefer, but was able to get through thanks to everyone’s efforts. “The end of this movie was a lot of green screens. It came together so quickly that even I, on the mix stage, seeing the music and sound come in so, for the last 25 minutes of the movie, even though I storyboarded and pre-viz’d all of it, I had moments of, ‘Holy God! This is bananas!’ It got so big, it kept growing. Post was so rapid. WETA Digital came in with so much great stuff, that even the person who planned it, was like, ‘This is so big!’”
7. An iPad was the most handy on-set device. Since a large portion of this action-packed film required special effects, Peyton was able to use an iPad to help block the actors – and get them a smidge more acclimated to an unreal environment. Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays the guy who, “when science shits the bed,” he’s “the one they call to change the sheets” Agent Russell, said, “There is a lot of green screen and ‘look at the tennis ball,’ but we could see…He was so meticulous in his prep that he had scenes done on an iPad – which, thank God. When you’re talking about monsters in town ripping apart, it helped a lot.”
6. Heart is important in this giant monster movie! Johnson mentioned that, “it was something we talked about very early. The conceit of this idea is an absurd one – a ridiculous one. We have three gigantic monsters completely destroying Chicago. There wasn’t a complex storyline. We took a lot of swings at it, where it was viable and believable – and mainly fun. But we also thought we needed an anchor. If we were going to be able to nail that anchor, then we have our shot at making a movie that people really want to go on the ride with. More importantly, we had a shot at making a movie that stood the test of time.”
5. Joe Manganiello got his RAMPAGE role out of his DUNGEONS & DRAGONS-penned script. Manganiello, who plays corporate mercenary-for-hire Burke, said that he landed his role through his talks with Peyton about his love of the classic seventies game. “I wrote a version of a DUNGEONS & DRAGONS film when it was at Warner Brothers. I found out that Brad was also a big fan of the property and was looking to direct a DUNGEONS & DRAGONS film. I think they were looking to [Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson] as well. I got my agents to connect me to Brad. I wanted to see what his idea is. We got on a Skype call and he was all, ‘I’m down in Atlanta. I’m getting ready to shoot RAMPAGE. I have this great role if you wanna play it. Come down, we’ll shoot that and talk about DUNGEONS & DRAGONS.’”
4. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson learned sign language for his role. The loving relationship between these two best friends required Johnson, or “DJ” as most of the panel referred to him, to learn the language. “I had sign language consultants who were helping me.”
3. RAMPAGE allows Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to save the world again. Though it certainly was fun to see him play the anti-thesis to his persona in CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE and JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE, RAMPAGE marks a return to bad-ass form. But that doesn’t mean he’s every going to stop playing more self-effacing roles. A mixture is preferred. “I find it more interesting, funnier and more entertaining when something undercuts the bad-assness. I’ve had the opportunity to play some really cool characters in the past that have been some pretty cool bad-ass guys, but there’s something inherently interesting when you can play a bad-ass, but also the foe is when you’re looking up at them – running from them. I love that.”
2. RAMPAGE is influenced by TERMINATOR 2. Peyton explained, “Tonally I can’t help being influenced by that. I look at TERMINATOR 2 and think, ‘This is the coolest shit ever.’ This movie is the ultimate tone.”
1. Yes, Joe Manganiello is aware of the irony behind his wolf-hunting RAMPAGE character. He joked, “They used to bring giant wolves in for most of my scenes [on TRUE BLOOD]. I’m no stranger to working with wolves. Unfortunately, on this film… It went the other way. The wolves weren’t listening to me and doing what I said this time.”
**Spoiler Alert*** The following fun fact contain spoilers. If you would like to remain as clear as possible, bookmark this page and return after you’ve seen the movie. For all others, feel free to proceed having been warned.
Easter Egg: George eats a woman in a red dress! And it’s one of the very fun nods to the video game’s Easter Eggs that made it into the movie. Granted, audiences may not see it coming until it actually happens as the character who gets eaten, Wyden Technologies’ villainous businesswoman Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman), is a brunette. The affable actress explained, “Being thrown into the mouth of the gorilla was one of those things when I became an audience member when I finally saw it done. I yelled out loud and thought it was the best scene ever, even though I was in it. I just didn’t know what to expect because I was being hoisted up on wires and it was a completely separate day when I was being dropped into the mouth of the gorilla. It was a bunch of mattresses I had to be plopped down into. A lady was telling me to touch my toes as I went down and I realized how not in shape I was.” And if Morgan’s 8-year-old loved it, it should serve to please the fans. He added, “When you get eaten, he said, ‘She had that comin.!’”
RAMPAGE opens on April 13.