Directed by: Brad Peyton
Written by: Ryan Eagle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, and Adam Sztykiel
Starring: Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Malin Akerman
Review by Evan Maroun
Walking up to my small local theater on opening night, the one other movie sitting up there on the marquee alongside Rampage was Ready Player One. It struck me. Two video game movies. I couldn’t help but think, If Rampage delivers on its monstrous premise, that would mean there would now be two fun video game movies in theaters at once; A milestone for a type of movie that has been plagued by countless problems and critical knocks.
So does Rampage help out the case for this subgenre, taking its video game origins of urban destruction and transforming it into a story worthy of telling?
Ha! See, that was a trick question. Like the arcade game its based on, no one is going into Rampage expecting a complex or emotional story. They go for one thing: Giant creatures beating the living hell out of each other while decimating everything in their path. Oh, and The Rock. I suppose he is an audience draw too. Fortunately for us, Rampage succeeds in amassing a ludicrous amount of property damage and has a blast doing it. It’s when the focus isn’t that where things don’t always work, tones clash, and unfortunately, that is most of the movie.
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson plays Davis Okoye, Primatologist and former member of special ops (This seems like a drastic career change, but we’ll roll with it.) and George, an albino silverback gorilla is his best friend. When a few containers holding a CRISPR experiment crash land on earth, George gets exposed, causing sudden growth and aggression. The two other containers are found elsewhere, one by a wolf, and the other by a gator. When the leaders of the company who funded the experiments get the news, they plan to save their research in what can only be described as a supervillain level plan–Mostly because of how borderline nonsensical and mustache-twirling it is.
The Rock does a satisfactory job selling the ridiculous material he is given here. He proves time and time again that he’s a likable actor, and that’s why we see him star in what feels like 1 in every 8 major release. Naomie Harris plays a scientist named Kate Caldwell who was working on the CRISPR experiment. She teams up with Okoye to help him save George and put a stop to the whole incident. She’s serviceable in the role but not really given a whole lot to do. Then we have Jeffrey Dean Morgan over here playing Harvey Russell, an FBI agent. Someone in the casting department must’ve been a big fan of The Walking Dead because it’s almost as if they were like “We love you as Negan, so… just do that.” Which surprisingly works. His line delivery and overall persona just drip of know-it-all sleaziness, but he imbues it with just enough self-aware nuance to make it work. He also serves as an ally to our heroes rather than an obstacle, which makes the character copy-and-paste a non-issue.
Finally, we have Malin Akerman as Claire Wyden, the head of the company responsible for the experiment’s disastrous release. She is a straight up cartoon character. Part of that has to do with the script because nothing she says humanizes her character. She is just there to serve as the villain and someone to root against, alongside her partner played by Jake Lacey, whose character is stupid, but somehow more relatable.
The main issue with Rampage is that much of the movie feels disjointed. The movie begins with a light introduction to a handful of characters. Three of them are thrown by the wayside not more than 20 minutes later after the incident occurs. The movie then gets more serious when the government and some mercenaries get involved. This is probably the weakest and sluggish aspect of the film, occasionally cutting back to a cliche general who won’t listen to anyone because apparently, he is the most knowledgeable in taking down giant creatures, an event no one has dealt with before. That’s when Okoye has to do things his way and sets off with Caldwell to deal with it themselves. That’s finally when the movie turns into the one we wanted all along. With 30 minutes left, time for the showdown.
You sit there with a dumb grin watching the destruction, with the three monsters diving through buildings, crushing vehicles like bugs, and leaving only a path of mangled metal and concrete behind. At least they captured the heart of the game where it counts! (Slight spoiler) Well kind of. Earlier in the film, when talking of CRISPR, someone says that the animals could gain other attributes of different species. So the Wolf becomes part flying squirrel and part porcupine. The Gator gets horns all over its back and tail, seemingly part dinosaur? Sure. Then we have George. Who gains nothing. Why? He is also the smallest of them all. My only guess is so we could root for the underdog. George gets a raw deal. Not cool. (end spoiler)
So the dust settles from the big loud battle and the film comes to its end. It tries to match the tone of the beginning, but after the mixed bag that is the middle, it feels like the writers couldn’t settle on one consistent tone. Or it could be that the Rock convinced the director to change the original and more earned conclusion. (spoilers within, obviously)
Rent it. Studios are getting closer but Rampage doesn’t quite end the video game curse. It suffers from a weak script with an uneven tone. It does, however, serve as a decent action vehicle for The Rock while providing an excuse to turn your brain off and see a good old-fashioned monster brawl.