The Rampage is a Force of Nature: Unstoppable Protagonists on Film
They attacked his daughter.
They killed his partner.
They put him into a coma for two years.
They pushed him too far.
Every good rampage/revenge flick has such a moment. It’s a moment that everyone in the audience knows is coming. And once it does, the fury unleased is often quite like a hurricane or tidal wave: the smart ones run; the scared stare, frozen; the dumb think they can withstand the barrage. All, eventually succumb to the terrifying and righteous fury coming their way. The wanton yet focused violence in which the aggrieved protagonists partake is the kind of spectacle that a good number of films have been based around, and with the now-iconic John Wick: Chapter 2 arriving to theaters, it seemed the right time to collect some of the righteous vigilantism together for our readers.
Death Wish 3 (1985)
Starting off strong, with the most over-the-top rampage in the Death Wish series. Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) finds his long-time (but til now in the series, never-mentioned) friend Charley (Francis Drake) near death following a gang attack in possibly the most cartoonish depiction of crime-ridden New York. It looks like a literal war zone. Under an arrangement from the NYPD, Kersey is set free and given the names of the gang leaders who commanded the attack, under the condition that he keep the police informed about his body count.
In addition to his by-now-standard pistol and grim sneer, Bronson also teams up with the senior residents of Charley’s crumbling apartment building and raids his old war buddy’s closet for a few automatic weapons and the real showstopper of the film: a rocket launcher.
When John Matrix’s (Arnold Schwarzenegger) daughter is kidnapped, he comes out of retirement as a black ops specialist to…Taken. It’s Taken, but way, way less grounded. Arnold is way more comfortable spouting one-liners and scoring exaggerated kills against the many, many Wilhelm-screaming pieces of cannon fodder that the scenery chewing Bennett (Vernon Wells) offers as obstacles. Obstacles which Matrix, in order: neck snaps, cliff drops, impales, beats, skull fractures, shoots off a pier, stabs, throat slits, throwing knives twice, Spetznaz ballistic knives, shoots off a watchtower, shoots, shoots, shoots, shoots, C4’s dozens of times, shoots, rocket launchers, and shoots some more, til finally impaling Bennett himself. In front of his daughter, no less.
Punisher: War Zone (2008)
Our own Sarah Jane has contributed a fantastic writeup on this Marvel antihero’s rampagey tendencies already, so I won’t delve too deeply. Though you should see it, because nobody did the first time around (stupid marketing departments), and even including Bernthal’s take in Netflix’s Daredevil series, it’s still got the best version of Frank Castle put to film to-date, and one of the single best rampages through a hideout I’ve ever seen. The picture above is not from that rampage, but is so hilarious in the moment that I think it deserves to get the level of “head explode” status that that age-old Riki-Oh gif has gotten.
And as has become a theme here, there’s a fucking GREAT rocket launcher scene.
Leon: The Professional (1994)
This entry is a bit of a rampage combined with a siege, almost like a reverse-rampage, since Leon (Jean Reno) first strikes out against and then defends attacks from, Stansfield (Gary frickin’ Oldman) and his cadre of dirty cops and legit SWAT members. Leon does the first in proactive defense of Mathilda (Natalie Portman), who identified the dirty police killing her parents over a bad drug deal, and sought asylum with her stealthily deadly neighbor. Stansfield tracks Mathilda back to Leon, and leads an all-out assault in which everyone, EVVVVVERYONE, gets stabbed, shot, or repelled by the scarily capable Leon. Leon gets the rocket launcher treatment here, instead of his foes, however, leaving him only mostly dead.
That is, til he meets up with Stansfield in person, and delivers a simple message from Mathilda.
A single, pulled grenade pin. Or several, depending on the cut of the movie you watch.
Olympus Has Fallen (2013)
Gerard Butler’s Mike Banning is a recently-severed Secret Service agent, pulled by his sense of duty to enter the fray when Korean terrorists scale an assault on the White House and take the President (Aaron Eckhart) and most of his cabinet hostage. The terrorists take control of the White House’s defenses, which include surface-to-air missiles and military grade automatic gunnery.
But they’re no match for Mike Banning and his patented approach of stabbing everything in the face. Just…so many damn head-stabs. You might almost be led to believe it’s too many, but then come more baddies who then get stabbed in the head. Then you realize, it’s just enough stabbings in the cranium. So, so many damn knives to the head in this movie. It’s glorious carnage.
Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior (2003)
When his village’s sacred statue is decapitated by thieves, Ting (Tony Jaa) goes in search to find the head. As the obstacles in his path grow more violent and numerous, he is forced to make use of his mastery of Muay-Thai to strike back. And by God, he really fucking does.
This is the odd movie on the list for two reasons. First, no rocket launcher (please forgive my transgression). Second, all the stunts in this film are done in-camera, mostly with the actors who play the characters performing their own stunts. Once you reach the finale, you’ll wonder how nobody died making those stunts a reality. I’m totally serious: in one scene, Jaa forcefully knees a motorcycle helmet off a man’s head as he careens toward him on his motorcycle.
The final fight, in which Jaa brandishes traditional style tonfas to bludgeon a crew of scavenging miners to submission, is a particular highlight and one of the downright best rampages and single-scene fights I’ve ever seen.