Film Review – Rampage
Rampage (2018) is the kind of movie phrases like “mindless entertainment” were invented to describe. It serves no other purpose than to provide audiences with escapism for two hours. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Some of the best movies ever made were created to distract us from everyday life. But what separates the good ones from the bad still comes from ambition and creativity. Rampage feels much too safe and by the numbers to have any lasting impact. From the comedy to the action set pieces, there’s nothing here that stands out beyond what we’ve seen countless times before. This is destined for a time slot on the TNT network.
Given that it’s based on a videogame of the same name – where you get to play gigantic monsters that destroy an entire city – I suppose we should’ve seen this coming. This film adaptation suffers from the same problem other videogame adaptations suffer from: the inability to provide something more outside of the central gimmick. We’ve seen giant monsters destroy cities before, so once the action hits a high point the familiarity doesn’t induce many thrills. On the big screen, how many times have seen Chicago get blown to smithereens? It happened in the Transformers series as well as in The Dark Knight (2008). So to see it happen again isn’t all that refreshing or exciting.
Brad Peyton directs a screenplay by a host of writers (Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, Adam Sztykiel). The absurdity of the plot starts right off the bat. On a space station hovering over Earth, a group of scientists work on a genetics experiment. Unfortunately, that experiment turns bad, ending with an explosion (the first of many) that sends dangerous chemicals sealed in canisters speeding towards Earth. Where do they land? Amazingly, they all land in America, setting off a toxic gas that changes any animal that comes in contact with it – causing them to rapidly increase in size and having the urge to destroy anything in their path.
The experiment was headed by a corporation run by Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy’s sibling duo in hopes of weaponizing the genetically modified animals. In what is arguably one of the dumbest decisions ever made in cinematic history, the pair found it wise to send a radio signal that would trigger the infected animals and bring them straight to Chicago, putting every citizen’s life at risk. Who is the only person that can prevent the city from being leveled? That would be Dwayne Johnson as an ex-soldier turned primatologist (huh?) whose beloved albino gorilla was one of the infected animals (along with a giant crocodile and a wolf that, for some reason, can fly).
Yawn. I don’t know if you were as bored reading about that set up as I was writing about it. Look, it’s no secret that the makers of Rampage weren’t trying to win any kind of awards, and at certain points that “don’t give a damn” attitude kind of pays off. I had a good laugh during certain sections where plausibility is thrown out of the window. The way Joe Manganiello’s soldier drives up in an armored truck and steps out already holding a gun in his hand was hilarious. But the main highlight was easily Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s government agent. Morgan plays his character as though he were still in The Walking Dead, sauntering around as cool as can be, even though all hell is breaking loose. I loved how he would break out some Southern adage at a moment’s notice, talking about how his “Pappy” would have a saying that would somehow relate to what they’re going through.
But all that fun is buried under ton of digitized mayhem and shoddy writing. It’s strange how a movie that is nearly non-stop action would feel so tedious. The monsters hurtle through skyscrapers with ease, all while the military fire away at them with little to no effect. It’s a cacophony of debris, crumbling buildings, and flying vehicles. It’s all captured with a bland, uninteresting visual style. But what really hurts Rampage is the human element. Many of the performers recite their lines as though they looked over the script a second before they shot their scenes. How are we supposed to believe in the stakes if the characters don’t believe in them as well? Poor Naomie Harris. She’s tasked to play a genetic scientist who helped develop the toxin, but her dialogue comes off stiff and unconvincing. Harris does what she can to make her scenes work, but it’s tough when all she gets is exposition or awkward lines like “Are you familiar with genetic editing?”
Dwayne Johnson has charisma in leaps and bounds. Even though – in this instance – he spends most of his time staring at imaginary figures, he does a darn good job of doing so. I just wonder: for a guy who clearly belongs in the action hero mold of an Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone, he has yet to find his defining franchise. The Fast and Furious series belongs to Vin Diesel. Johnson has the look, attitude, and screen presence to carry a property on his back, so why hasn’t he found the right fit? Where is his Terminator or Rocky? I hope he eventually finds the right property that’ll cement him as the action superstar he deserves to be, and not have to settle for mediocre stuff like Rampage.