How ‘Rampage’ Succeeds Where Other Video Game Movies Fail

It is an accepted fact that video game movies don’t work.  It’s not that they can’t work, just that, for whatever reason, they don’t.  Facing a myriad of issues ranging from pacing to paring down colossal run-times to bargain-bin talent to questionable source material, they have never captured the movie-going public the same way that adaptations from other mediums have over the years.

Rampage is officially the best rated movie based on a video game ever.  Admittedly, “best” here is being used on the very, very generous sliding scale afforded to this vein of movies, but it remains a demonstrable fact that it has succeeded more with critics and audiences than any other movie of its kind.  At the fact that it has a rotten 50% rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody.

Hard as that may be for some to believe, a 50% rating – meaning that half of everybody who reviewed the film didn’t like it – is the highest such rating for a movie adapted from a video game.  This year’s Tomb Raider came in close behind it with a 49% rating.  For comparison, the original film only got a 20%.

Mortal Kombat, often cited as the best of these kinds of movies, only clocks in at 34%.  Resident Evil, which spawned perhaps the longest-running series of such adaptations, also got a 34%.  Silent Hill, another “best of” video game movie, only received a 29%.

In fact, outside of the runaway success that was the Castlevania Netflix series – which earned an unprecedented 86% approval from critics – every last one of these adaptations has been a dud of the highest order.  Not a single one of them has earned the approval of the majority of critics.  Not a single one of them is considered good.

But Rampage comes close: certainly closer than any movie that has come before it.  It even split critics, even coming in on the more positive side before all of the reviews were ultimately accounted for.  It further topped the weekend box office with a commendable $35 million opening.  Coupled with its $115 million overseas haul, it has more than made up its sizable $120 million budget.

The question is, though, “why Rampage?”  Why does a cheap 80’s arcade game, with minimal story and even fewer characters, rake in all of this relative success when the great, sweeping, cinematic games of today languish with such awful adaptations?  Why does Rampage work when Super Mario Bros, Assassin’s Creed, Warcraft and Street Fighter continue to fail?

The main reason is precisely because it is based off of a cheap 80’s arcade game with minimal story and even fewer characters.  Barring reaching the high score and continued replays, its run time is incredibly short.  It’s not like it’s a sprawling epic that takes 40, 50, 60 hours to complete.  It’s a skeletal experience that Hollywood writers can build up from a solid foundation, rather than strip away from a tight, narrative experience.

Modern video games, if they’re adapted at all, are better suited for TV series, whose sprawling, episodic runtimes can better account for massive, complex narratives spread out over multiple levels / missions.  They don’t need to cut the experience down to the marrow and throw out every last frame that is unessential to the story.  They have room to breathe.

Arcade classics, however, don’t have those concerns.  Their stories – if there even was one in the first place – were minimal: merely the context for punching buildings, jumping over barrels and shooting at space ships.  They’re blank slates that provide the marketable context for a story, rather than dictating what all was needed to be included to satisfy a core fanbase of avid players.

The second is simply that it’s a fun time.  So many of these movies try to make themselves serious and, by proxy, somehow meaningful.  Super Mario Bros’ dystopian urban sprawl had far more in common with Fritz Lang’s Metropolis than the 8-bit adventures across the Mushroom Kingdom that fans the world over had come to know.  Assassin’s Creed was shot in self-serious grayscale and bogged itself down in melodrama.  Despite fun being a key selling point of their original medium, so few of their adaptations seem to think that it’s all that important to have it at the movie theater.

Rampage, however, is.  Its cartoony graphics, cartoonish presence and likeable cast all contribute to this elusive fun factor.  More than trying to make Rampage a “good movie,” its creators aimed to make something endlessly watchable: a fun popcorn flick about monster tearing up Chicago because that’s what made the best explosions.  That’s something that a lot more of these kinds of movies should keep in mind during production and strive for in conception.  Because, after all, fun trumps all else in the entertainment business.

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