If you know me, you know I’ve made a pretty solemn vow to see as many, if not all, movies featuring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. He’s inarguably the Schwarzenegger of my generation and with his pearly white smile and gentle heart, the guy is a certifiable man-dime. With Rampage (2018), we are asked two underlying questions: 1. Will Johnson be able to carry ANOTHER blockbuster on his shoulders; and 2. will Rampage be just another video game movie? Rampage was originally an arcade game wherein players would play as raging large animals and wreak havoc on a city for as long as possible before “dying” and turning back into a human. Right out of the gate, Rampage the movie differentiates itself from its source by forgoing the metamorphosis angle and just exposing regular animals to a chemical that makes their size and rage grow at an exponential rate. So now I am ten minutes into this movie and already I feel like the arcade game has a more compelling premise.
The main story revolves around Johnson, who plays Davis Okoye – a primatologist who trains a team to take care of other primates in the San Diego Zoo. George is the albino gorilla that Davis seems to have a kinship with and it’s the first sign this movie may be taking steps to establish a nuanced relationship between man and ape (because that’s never happened before). Eventually George is infected by this chemical that rogue genetic research facility and shamelessly on-the-nose reference CRISPR began experimenting with before it went awry and infected not only George, but a wolf and an alligator in other parts of the world as well. The three beasts begin to tear apart North America as they make their way to a beacon in the middle of Chicago so two corporate siblings who inexplicably run CRISPR can watch the world crumble. It sounds like lousy motivation for a villain and that’s because it is. Malin Ackerman (of Watchmen (2009) fame) is the main villain, who’s supposedly empowering women by being a jerk to her idiot brother played by Jake Lacey (Pete Miller from The Office). It’s not really empowering when her ends don’t justify her means at all and she just plays the jerk for the sake of being a jerk. This is a prime example of one of those ongoing Hollywood issues; writing a female character to be a jerk (so pretty much a carbon copy of a male character) and calling it feminism. Ackerman is good enough in the role but the writing and her characterization leave little to nothing for any audience member to latch onto (or even love to hate). Meanwhile, Lacey’s character is only written to be a punching bag for Ackerman.
Meanwhile, on the heroes’ side, Dwayne Johnson leads a team of zoologists and it looks like there will be a great dynamic between the four of them… until the plot starts rolling and the three supporting characters drop out completely. Even having them die at the hands of a rage-induced George would have been more effective for the plot than their just being in the movie for a bit before being dropped like a bad habit.
Once Johnson’s team is abolished from the movie, in steps Naomie Harris as geneticist Kate Caldwell. Caldwell has the biggest grudge out of anyone against the corporation that is responsible for these rampaging animals because they are involved with the death of her brother. It’s an interesting plot point that gives her character more meaning (and gives the villains somewhat of an excuse to stay relevant to the plot), but it seems too-little too-late because everything between the first and third act is cheesy and pointless. I did enjoy Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the stereotypical red-blooded government agent… but it’s clear that Morgan found his calling with his role as Negan in The Walking Dead and now he’s about to enter a void type-casting for the next 5+ years. However, I don’t really blame Morgan for going down the Negan-route because he has to do SOMETHING to elevate the cheesy and convoluted dialogue he’s given in Rampage.
Save for a few quick action sequences here and there (and Joe Mangienello’s brief moment in the spotlight as he attempts to take down the 30 foot wolf), the fun doesn’t truly start until the third act when the three animals rip through Chicago. Coming back to cheesiness, I think the best line of the movie is when a military-whoever says, “there’s movement in the river,” and his superior stands up to say, “we have no subs in the area.” Wow, shocker, there are no submarines in the Chicago area. Color me shocked. I can’t lie, when the action starts and the massive animal trio tears the city apart (but not before the “plot-insurance” of making sure the city is evacuated), I had a smile on my face. It was dumb CGI fun, sue me. But for an hour and a half movie to feel almost two hours long, just to get to the fun, is almost cruel. The movie overstuffs the climax by trying to cover Dr. Caldwell’s vengeance for her brother, the CRISPR siblings’ receiving some semblance of justice, George’s redemption via his friendship with Davis, and the salvation of Chicago. There is physically not enough time for any of this and instead of choosing plot points to carry to the third act and resolving others in the second, it’s all saved for the last second like a tenth grader cramming before three tests and two papers the next morning.
The action is fun when it finally takes center stage, but a lack of character development and stakes that just don’t feel worth their weight hold Rampage back from being even just a fun time at the movies for an hour and a half. It might be more fun if you’re drunk, but the movie doesn’t come with a complimentary tall boy so what’s the point?
If you’re into a massive gorilla, wolf, and crocodile ransacking Chicago and watching The Rock try to inject any life into this movie at all, check out Rampage (2018). It’s dumb fun. Just don’t be surprised when you’re bored halfway through the movie and nobody’s motivations make sense. Rampage, as far as I’m concerned, is yet another mediocre video game adaptation.