Rampage

The monster movie template that emerges from the 1950s has a few particular roles for the human characters. You have the man of action– usually a somewhat gruff soldier or general type who’d rather shoot to kill but is savvy enough to listen to those with the bigger brain. You also have the man of science– the expert in the movie’s relevant scientific field who needs some brawn to keep him (or her) from being eaten while trying to piece together the scientific puzzle that’ll kill the monster. The formula almost reads like propaganda for the military-industrial complex, where the might of the military and the ingenuity of the private sector band together to save the world from “the other.” If anyone’s harboring secrets and not playing with all their cards above the table, they aren’t someone to be trusted. Saving the world is a gentleman’s game, and there’s no room for any sort of process other than board meetings and educational seminars. To watch a movie like Them is to see all facets of “legitimate” American society band together and work miracles in the name of God, Country, and Science.

Over time that absolute trust in various authority figures has weathered away. Sometimes the military is working on a secret project. The remake of The Blob from the 1980s has it where the military created the titular monster, and the cover-up is just as lethal to the small town under attack as the actual monster. Over time, the heroes started to be less well-oiled cogs in an idealized machine and more power fantasy “heroes” pulling through despite the actions of “the man.” We still have the brains and the brawn, but they’re no longer decked out in lab coats and fatigues.

Basically, the way the heroes of these monster movies are portrayed has shifted away from representatives of the establishment. Even when you have a soldier focal point, like in the recent Hollywood remake of Godzilla, that individual is less a part of a unit and more someone lost in the action. It’s often the institutions that created the problem, and it’s up to those who skirt along the edges to fix things.

At first, Rampage looks to be working in the same direction. Dwayne Johnson’s Davis and Naomie Harris’ Caldwell are the respective brawn and brains– he’s an ex-soldier turned anti-poaching gorilla rescuer, she’s an ex-employee of the evil company that created the Rampage monsters. They’re both outcasts from their respective fields, and fit the modern trends perfectly. They even run afoul of the government early on, as they’re taken captive by black ops spooks when George, the albino ape under Johnson’s care, begins his personal Rampage in San Diego. These operatives are initially presented as you’d expect. They taunt the heroes, lock down George, and essentially do all the wrong things uncaring government types do in these sorts of movies.

Then the lead spook, Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Agent Russell, shows genuine sympathy for George. He has his orders, but he honestly feels sorry that Davis will likely lose his friend once the government’s done with him. In turn, Davis saves Russell during the plane crash setpiece, and that favor is returned later when Russell helps Davis and Caldwell escape capture from the military.

Basically, this black ops government spook from an unnamed agency is the one authority figure in the movie the characters can trust. The military only sees value in physical force, to the point that they nearly bomb the hell out of a civilian-fulled Chicago to kill these monsters. The industrial figures who created this mess are presented like Donald Trump’s children– the sister being the brains behind the operation, able to feign politeness under pressure while plotting to take advantage of the death of millions, while the brother is a sniveling coward decked out like an Ivy League stereotype.

Without the help of the guy who’s essentially the stand in for the mythical “deep state,” the US would be overtaken by man-eating monsters created by petulant children playing with toys they don’t understand and can’t control. It’s essentially that fantasy that some hidden element within the government will exert its power against the Trump presidency and save us all from his machinations.

Rampage is that idealistic liberal fantasy of the “good guys” overthrowing Trump from within, when the truth is most people are perfectly happy with or indifferent to the ongoing Rampage.

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