Rampage doesn’t blend action, comedy, and heart as well as The Rock’s best tentpoles, but there’s good dunderheaded fun to be had here.
Dwayne Johnson’s Rampage manages to be both one of the more enjoyable and one of the dumber video game movies in recent memory. Johnson himself is no stranger to the world of video game adaptations, having starred in the infamous 2005 big screen version of Doom; a film that even The Rock has admitted fell victim to the infamous video game movie “curse”. It wouldn’t have been difficult for Rampage to fall into the same boat either, seeing as it’s based on a property that started out as a Bally Midway arcade title in the 1980s, and was itself a very straightforward riff on hokey B-movies about monsters with bad temperaments.
Johnson stars in Rampage as Davis Okoye, a primatologist at a San Diego wildlife preserve who prefers the company of animals after his years of service in the military, and his time leading an anti-poaching unit. Davis now spends his days training new recruits and caring for the park’s gorillas; in particular George, a rare albino silverback gorilla whom Davis rescued as an infant and taught sign language to. Everything changes one night when George is exposed to a strange chemical from a canister that crashed down at the preserve, causing him to begin growing rapidly and raging out.
Desperate to help his friend before the government either takes him away or kills him, Davis finds an unexpected ally in genetic engineer Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), who claims to know what happened to George and how to cure his newfound condition. However, before they can do anything to help, George escapes and draws the attention of not only the authorities, but the minds behind a secret operation known as “Project: Rampage”. As it turns out, the situation is even more complicated than Davis and Kate thought, and George wasn’t the only animal that was infected by this “unknown” pathogen…
For better or worse, Rampage the film neither aspires to be high cinematic pop art like fellow game adaptation Assassin’s Creed nor attempts to break the video game movie mold, a la Warcraft and this year’s Tomb Raider. Instead, this particular video game movie fits squarely into Johnson’s established “brand” and could have easily been an original sci-fi film about The Rock battling giant monsters, had it dropped the references to the original games. Rampage doesn’t blend action, comedy, and heart as well as The Rock’s best tentpoles, but there’s good dunderheaded fun to be had here.
Rampage marks the third collaboration for Johnson and director Brad Peyton, after their family-friendly 3D adventure sequel Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and natural disaster thriller San Andreas. Peyton applies the experience he gained from making those films to positive effect here, resulting in one of his more polished efforts; starting with the movie’s Gravity-esque opening aboard a space station orbiting the earth and continuing on to the city wrecking mayhem that dominates the third act. The movie doesn’t exactly boast a rich color palette (like San Andreas, it’s mostly painted in flat shades of brown and grey), but its action and set pieces are photographed in a clean fashion that makes them easy to follow. Rampage also combines elements of a monster horror movie with a disaster tentpole, military action-adventure and, as mentioned earlier, even a cosmic thriller at one point, further showcasing Peyton’s range as a director in the process.
The actual story for Rampage is cheerfully dim-witted and attempts to use half-baked science fiction concepts (ergo “genetic editing”) to explain the cause behind the film’s raging, mutating, giant behemoths. Armed with a screen story and script credited to Ryan J. Condol (Hercules), Carlton Cuse (San Andreas), Ryan Engle (The Commuter), and Adam Sztykiel (Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip), the film is loaded with hammy exposition and handwavy explanations for what is even happening and why characters are doing things at any point in time. Fortunately, Rampage typically avoids taking itself too seriously, and Peyton and his crew likewise favor forward momentum over in-depth plot or character development.
Rampage may not have much more on its mind than the games about city-wrecking creatures that inspired it (and the B-movies that inspired them), but it usually avoids pretending otherwise. There’s not a whole lot to its characters either, though the relationship between Davis and George (prolific creature performer Jason Lilies) provides the film with a serviceable emotional core. Rampage struggles to maintain the illusion that The Rock isn’t interacting with a CGI character brought to life through motion capture and green screen, but it does succeed in making George a fun reflection of Davis’ personality (read: rude and crude, but with a heart of gold). Meanwhile, Johnson has enough charisma and swagger to sell Davis as being a worthy hero in his own right, with a simple character arc to boot.
Harris as Kate mostly exists to react to Johnson’s antics and keep Rampage‘s plot moving forward, but she is relevant to the story and makes for a proper sidekick to Johnson. The other supporting players in Rampage, however, are as ridiculous and cartoonish as the “genetically edited” monsters wreaking havoc. Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s government agent Harvey Russell, for example, struts around with a giant belt buckle and a pistol in his holster for the entire film, lest anyone forget that he’s the cowboy/maverick type. Morgan wisely plays his role over the top, much like Malin Akerman and Jake Lacey as Claire and Brett Wyden – the conniving siblings that run Engyne, the company responsible for “Project: Rampage”. The rest of the ensemble is rounded out by familiar faces like Joe Manganiello, P.J. Byrne, and Will Yun Lee, but for the most part they serve as little more than glorified extras.
In the end, Rampage is very much the tongue in cheek and otherwise goofy video game movie that its trailers have promised, for both good and bad. It lacks the heart and memorable characters found in the best movies from The Rock’s “brand” (see Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), but has enough popcorn entertainment value to earn a passing grade. Rampage would probably struggle to stand out in the upcoming summer movie seasons next to films that, by the look of them, are better crafted and offer more substance to go with their spectacle. That said, seeing as there are still a couple weeks until Avengers: Infinity War arrives (and “summer” with it), Rampage ought to do the trick for those in the mood for some enjoyably forgettable blockbuster silliness.
Rampage is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 107 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, and brief language, and crude gestures.
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