Directed by: Brad Peyton
Written by: Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, Adam Sztykiel
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello
Rampage, the third and latest collaboration between Brad Peyton and Dwayne Johnson, is a popcorn, B-level, leave-your-brain-at-the-door movie. We know it and fortunately the movie itself seems to mostly know it as well which is the best possible scenario when it comes to stories about genetically-tampered wolves, gorillas and crocodiles that consequently become giant-sized, killing monsters. Mostly being the keyword.
We are largely spared the hellish character and plot exposition beats that are de rigueur for the type of Kurtzman / Orci, Elliot / Rossio blockbusters that Rampage flirts with being. It’s probably no more than ten minutes before the first animal is exposed to the hazardous (MacGuffin) material that proves to be the crux of the plot and the snowball doesn’t stop rolling after that. What follows for the bulk of the one hour and forty-five minute run time is an admittedly impressive CGI rendition of enlarged beasts in a wild, well, rampage that culminates with Chicago and its inevitable destruction. It’s a sequence that, while not as sadistic as Michael Bay’s Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon, surely doesn’t shy away from showing every speck of rubble and debris falling from crumbling buildings and flying military transports (and personnel). The texture of the monsters’ fur and skin and, even more so, the honest spontaneity of their movement is hands down the most memorable aspect of this entire endeavor.
Admittedly, there are mumbo jumbo scenes intended to actually try and explain to us how three animals grew kaiju-sized and headed straight towards the windy city but they are brief and, while not entirely painless, at least odorless. Where the screenplay and Peyton stray most significantly from the matinee-like foundations of the story is in tone. That alone is often reason enough for utter failure and in Rampage it almost is.
We are ushered into a world where a geneticist (Naomie Harris) formerly employed by the evil corporate chair responsible for the whole mess (Malin Akerman) flat out declares that she has nothing but some vague ideas on how to stop the carnage. And yet, they decide that the most reasonable course of action is teaming up with a former marine and current animal expert (who else?) to go rogue, attack and steal military staff and equipment and try to wing it, hoping something sticks. Fine. We are told that Johnson and his albino gorilla can communicate via sign language (not unlike Congo). Sure. We witness as both Harris and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (stealing the movie from all his live-action counterparts right from under their noses with his FBI cowboy creation) semi-indirectly but all too consciously become murderers. Why not? But when the film goes completely berserk and tens, dozens and, finally, hundreds of civilians start being obliterated in all sorts of ways by these overgrown rascals this aforementioned tone goes all askew.
This is not San Andreas where Dwayne Johnson helps every poor soul he happens to encounter along the way (when he is not trampling down said poor souls on his laser-focused race to save his daughter, that is). That film had nary a joke or trace of such and certainly didn’t have a King Kong ripoff playing dead and then giving the finger to his broken-hearted pal while laying amidst a torn city littered with corpses. It could potentially be ignored in some other ignominious piece of trash (say, Man of Steel) when that only forms part of a bigger, unholy puzzle but is harder to do when the set piece that honors the film’s title asks you to behold the slaughter at one second and laugh or smile at Johnson’s uttering some zany line at the next one. After endless fatal blows, punches, bites and attacks to everything in their path by George, Lizzie and Ralph (the monsters’ names in the original game on which the movie is based), we are once again asked to accept our hero’s gorilla buddy as a harmless do gooder as opposed to erstwhile killing machine.
It is called tone. Yes, it can kill a movie but it doesn’t completely kill Rampage which, in the end, can best be described as simply uneven. It is neither nail-bite-inducing nor clever nor (worst crime of all) fun enough to make it stand out. Were it not for its truly remarkable digital imagery the movie would be totally forgettable.
The biggest problem, however, might be Dwayne Johnson’s presence itself (ironic, given that acting is not a major focus of the movie anyway). There is no doubt in my mind that most of Rampage‘s respectable opening weekend box office take came because the name of the current biggest movie star in the world appeared on all of the posters and billboards. However, I also have no doubt that The Artist Formerly Known As The Rock is on the brink of not only becoming overexposed but, more dangerously for his nascent throne at the very top, also trite. But that’s another story. — Eloy Ricardo Balderas Salazar