In most monster movies the hero is trying to destroy the creature; in Rampage he’s trying to save it.
Like movie fans around the world, Rampage director/producer Brad Peyton loves to see Dwayne Johnson in terrifying, larger-than-life scenarios that require all his skill and strength, humor and charm, to overcome.
Peyton has already placed his intrepid star under a volcano on a sinking island, and dropped him into the epicenter of a magnitude-9 earthquake. Now, in their third big-screen adventure—a movie that’s massive on every level—scale, scope, action and visual impact—Peyton ups the ante again by pitting Johnson against something he has never faced before: an antagonist even bigger than he is.
And not just one, but three—gargantuan, genetically mutating creatures, completely out of control, on a collision course with civilization.
In Rampage Johnson stars as primatologist Davis Okoye, a man who keeps people at a distance but shares an unshakable bond with George, the extraordinarily intelligent, incredibly rare albino silverback gorilla who has been in his care since he rescued the young orphan from poachers. But a rogue genetic experiment gone awry mutates this gentle ape into a raging creature of enormous size.
To make matters worse, it’s soon discovered there are other similarly altered animals. As these newly created alpha predators tear across North America, destroying everything in their path, Okoye teams with discredited geneticist Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) to secure an antidote, fighting his way through an ever-changing battlefield, not only to halt a global catastrophe but to save the fearsome creature that was once his friend.
Peyton directed from a screenplay by Ryan Engle and Carlton Cuse & Ryan J. Condal and Adam Sztykiel, story by Ryan Engle.
Johnson is up for the challenge. “Brad and I are like a couple of kids when we get together on a project like this,” he says. “Art always reflects the artist, so I think fans can count on great action and great fun, and a fair amount of destruction. We always want to push things farther than we did before and to constantly raise that bar. Or possibly go over it. For me, just stepping on the set every day was like, okay, it’s 7 AM and my intensity level goes up to fifteen on a scale of one-to-ten, and it stays that way until the end of the day.”
BRAD PEYTON (Director / Producer) marks his third collaboration directing Dwayne Johnson with Rampage, following the 2015 blockbuster San Andreas which grossed $473 million worldwide and was the highest grossing original film of the year, and the hit film Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, which grossed nearly $335 million globally.
Born in Newfoundland, Canada, Peyton graduated from the Canadian Film Centre. He first gained accolades in 2002 with his black comedy short “Evelyn: The Cutest Evil Dead Girl.” He then produced the CBC claymation series “What It’s Like Being Alone.” In 2010 came the release of Peyton’s first full-length feature, “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore,” which combined live action with CG animation.
His upcoming film projects include Just Cause, based on the popular video game, and Epoch Index, inspired by the sci-fi novella.
On the television side, with producing partner Jeff Fierson and through their production company ASAP Entertainment, Peyton creates and develops action and elevated genre projects in the television and digital spaces through their multiyear first-look deal with eOne. Peyton and Fierson recently completed the third season of the Netflix/Discovery series Frontier and are developing for Syfy The Woods, an hour-long science fiction drama based on Boom! Studios’ flagship graphic novel series.
Among the interests Peyton and Johnson share that factored into Rampage are an affinity for movies about ferocious giant creatures and an affection for the classic video arcade game Rampage, featuring a trio of supersized creatures knocking down cities and running wild over the landscape. Also, the commitment to anchor this kind of outsized cinematic spectacle with a genuine story and characters.
Though the arcade game was the original spark of inspiration, it didn’t provide a lot beyond its pure and simple premise, which suited Peyton perfectly. “I was interested in the challenges and opportunities that came from the game,” he says, “but the fact that it had so little narrative allowed us to make our own movie, create our own monsters and explore our own themes. We paid homage to it in a fun and respectful way by utilizing its creatures and planting some Easter eggs for fans.”
In the film, what triggers the rampage is a secret bio-genetic experiment that goes off the rails, unleashing a gene-altering substance that causes animals to grow not only in strength and aggression, but in more frightening and unpredictable ways as they absorb volatile DNA from other species. The first casualty of this substance is George, an albino silverback gorilla housed at a California wildlife sanctuary. George is very special to Johnson’s character, Davis, a primatologist who rescued him from poachers, raised him, taught him to sign, and shares with him an unbreakable bond of friendship. So, when George turns overnight from a normal-sized, peaceful ape to a roaring, destructive colossus, Davis is determined to do whatever he has to do to keep George safe, while trying to figure out what is happening to him.
Producer Beau Flynn, who has successfully teamed with Johnson on numerous projects, cites one of the ways in which he feels “Rampage” stands apart from its genre: “Ordinarily, in this kind of movie you have a hero who is trying to stop the monstrous creatures at any cost and fight to the death to save the planet. I’ve rarely seen one where the hero is not only trying to save the world but, at the same time, trying to help and protect one of the combatants. In short, in most movies the hero is trying to destroy the creature; in ours, he’s trying to save it. Davis knows George never signed up for this. And not only does Davis want to keep him alive but, he might ultimately need George’s help in an epic monster battle yet to come—and that, to me, is fresh and exciting.”
The panic over George is further escalated by the appearance of two other shockingly transformed animals— first, a mammoth wolf that not only leaps great heights but is somehow able to fly, and, later, a crocodile the length of a football field and moving like a cruiser. Having had more exposure to the pathogen, they are exponentially larger and fiercer. Not only growing, but continuing to evolve, all three set off on a path of destruction toward Chicago.
Even so, the filmmakers sought to keep a fun and lighthearted tone in play, allowing ample opportunity for humor alongside the movie’s thrills and Kaiju-style battles, with plenty of one-liners delivered with Dwayne Johnson’s inimitable style.
Ryan Engle, who developed the story, and shares screenplay credit with Adam Sztykiel and “San Andreas” writers Carlton Cuse and Ryan J. Condal, says, “The challenge was how to tell a story about mutated animals that’s emotional, action-oriented, scary, and fun, and how to create a different kind of scenario. Rather than relying on size and scale, we wanted to include elements of speed and agility, and see these monstrous beings do things we haven’t seen before.”
RYAN ENGLE (Screenplay / Story) most recently wrote The Commuter, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Before that, Engle collaborated with Collet-Serra on Non-Stop. In 2018, Engle also has the upcoming Breaking In.
CARLTON CUSE (Screenplay) is one of the most successful showrunners in television. Working variously as a creator, writer, producer and director, he currently has three series in production: Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, for Amazon, Locke & Key, on Hulu, and Colony, on USA. His recent credits include Bates Motel, for A&E, and The Strain, for FX.
Cuse wrote the screenplay for Dwayne Johnson’s prior film, San Andreas, which was Warner Bros. Pictures’ highest grossing movie of 2015.
Cuse grew up in Boston, Massachusetts and Orange County, California. He attended Harvard University, graduating with a degree in American History. In 2004, Cuse teamed with Damon Lindelof as showrunner, writer, and executive producer for all six seasons of “Lost” on ABC, winning many awards along the way. While overseeing “Lost,” Cuse also pioneered the development of the first transmedia content made in conjunction with a television series.
Cuse started his career in feature films, helping to develop the stories and screenplays of a number of major studio releases, before migrating to television—first as a writer on the Michael Mann series “Crime Story,” and then as co-creator and executive producer of the critically acclaimed Fox series “The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.” He went on to create and executive produce the highly rated CBS show “Nash Bridges,” starring Don Johnson and Cheech Marin, which ran for six seasons and 121 episodes, cementing his status as a series creator and showrunner.
Cuse has received ten Emmy Nominations for his work and has won two Emmys: for Best Drama Series and for Outstanding Achievement in Interactive Media. Among his other honors, Cuse has won a Golden Globe, a Peabody Award, a Producers Guild Award, three AFI Awards, The Jules Verne Award, four Saturn Awards, The Saturn Legacy Award, a Writers Guild Award, the Variety Creative Leadership Award and the People’s Choice Award.
In 2010, Cuse was named to Time magazine’s annual List of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.
RYAN J. CONDAL (Screenplay) was raised in the cinemas of New Jersey, on the films of his bearded heroes: John Milius, Steven Spielberg, and James Cameron. Later, he came to Hollywood in 2006 with a bunch of scripts that no one would read and a dream: to write movies that honored those of his spiritual forebears. In 2013, that dream became a reality with his first Dwayne Johnson movie: Hercules.
Condal has since had a long and fruitful relationship with writer Carlton Cuse, with whom he co-created the USA series “Colony.” “Rampage” is their most recent collaboration.
ADAM SZTYKIEL (Screenplay) made his debut writing the 2008 movie Made of Honor, He went on to write the 2010 comedy Due Date, directed by Todd Phillips, as well as 2015’s Alvin And the Chipmunks: The Road Chip.
For television, he was the creator and executive producer of the NBC sitcom Undateable, which ran for three seasons from 2014-2016.
Incorporating the idea of a plot to weaponize DNA—for which these three hapless beasts are the prototypes—introduces human villains behind the mayhem, and amplifies the danger to a global priority. Sztykiel, who also makes a cameo as a C-17 pilot, says, “There’s the immediate threat of more infected creatures on the loose. Were there other canisters not accounted for, and where did they land?”
As producer Hiram Garcia suggests, “What makes these creatures so interesting is that they’re hybrids, combining their own genetic makeup with traits of other animals to make them tougher and more dangerous fighters—for example, a gorilla that can regenerate tissue at the rate of a spiny mouse, or a wolf that develops webbing to allow it to soar through the air. Once you ground that premise, you say, okay, now what would happen if this technology gets into the wrong hands?”
While taking great liberties with the science, the CRISPR gene-editing program the film cites is, in fact, real. Originated in 1993, its goal is curing cancer and other diseases through modifications to an organism’s genetic code.
Johnson, also an executive producer on the film, concedes, “The science is fascinating. But we had to maintain that balance between delivering on a scientific perspective that makes sense and making sure we’re right around the next corner winking at the audience and letting them know we’re all in on this: hey, we’re making a big, fun movie about a crocodile with 1118 giant teeth, and a gorilla the size of a house, who likes to flip me off.”
Focusing on those stunning visuals, the filmmakers enlisted preeminent visual effects company Weta Digital to create the non-human “Rampage” cast. Their input, Peyton attests, “was absolutely essential. We couldn’t have pulled off such an ambitious project without storytellers of their caliber. They are true artists. It was vital that we not only nail the design, but also the emotion and intent that comes through these creatures.”
The wolf and croc, born entirely of groundbreaking visual effects, take center stage without compromise. Says Flynn, “It was very important to us not to hide the creatures with scenes that take place at night, or in rain or under overcast skies. We wanted to show them in broad daylight, mutating and rampaging over the course of the film, and to juxtapose blue skies with the kind of havoc they’re causing.”
With George, they took a different approach. The great ape is an amalgam of Weta’s digital artistry and performance capture, with actor Jason Liles contributing the personality and humanity that will allow audiences to embrace George as a sentient being, and to ensure the credibility of his bond with Davis—who realizes he is as much a victim of his outrageous metamorphosis as the people now fleeing from him in fear. And even as the animal grows and changes, George remains the heart of the story.
“Right away, I knew the emotional core and through-line of the story was going to be their connection,” Peyton relates, “Because we place so much emphasis on it, all the other elements— the plane crashes and explosions and battles—have more value because now you care if someone is going to live or die, you care if Davis and George are going to be reunited. I always want to make things as exciting as possible, but, I feel, if you have the fun without the underpinning of real emotion and real stakes, it doesn’t have the same impact. You want to feel something; you want the full experience.
“The main themes of the movie are trust, and friendship,” he sums up, “and the lengths you would go to save your friend.” As the story unfolds, that turns out to be a formidable distance for them both.
Framing it in a way anyone can relate to, producer John Rickard observes, “Davis doesn’t understand why George is becoming more dangerous, to himself and the world around him. So, what’s he going to do? What would anyone do? I have a dog, myself, and if that dog got sick or lost, you couldn’t stop me from trying to find him and make it better, because he’s my family. That’s how Davis feels about George, and that’s the emotional factor that really grounds the story in a way that should ring true for a lot of people.”
Overall, in the story’s reach, in the sheer size and scope of the action and visual feast, the massive sets, massive creatures, everything about “Rampage” echoes the idea of “big meets bigger.” It was the director’s intention, he says, “to imbed the audience in the events, as opposed to having them witness something that’s happening ‘over there.’ With this, I wanted people to feel that these scary things that are so big and move so quickly are all around them, all the time. I want to put them right into the action as much as possible.”
“What got me excited about ‘Rampage’ was the opportunity to create something epic,” adds Johnson. “What I mean by that is, we have not just one gigantic, amazing gorilla, we have an immense crocodile that comes out of the swamps of Florida, and an insanely big wolf from the Northwest…and then this big, bald, brown, tattooed guy running around with them,” he laughs. “The game was built on playing and tearing things up, and I think this pays homage to that idea. We set up the story and then suddenly, bang, you’re off; you’re on this ride and it’s all adrenaline.”