Rampage review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Rampage is very much aware of the film it is trying to be. It’s based on a video game where the player would assume the role of a giant monster that busted up buildings and ate people. From such source material, it fits neatly into the category of giant monster movies akin to Godzilla and King Kong, where the military is always useless, the monsters always destructive, and the carnage always silly. Director Brad Peyton is an accomplished enough director to know you don’t take a film with a giant albino gorilla battling a giant flying wolf too seriously. But in his attempt to be that tongue-in-cheek action romp, I wished he’d amp up the dumb to be the destructively entertaining farce it could have been.
In order to get to the game’s plotting of giant monsters ripping up a city, the script takes the route of a 1950s giant monster movie. Three boxes containing a gas for creating weaponized animals, developed by a sinister science organization, crash to Earth from a destroyed satellite. Three predatory animals are exposed to this gas and grow in size and aggression. Ralph is a wolf that can now topple over trees and somehow has the ability to fly. Lizzie is a crocodile that ascends to a girth that can cause tidal waves and brandishes spikes that pierce anything. And then there is George, the albino gorilla that really only adopts the ability to get bigger and louder. By sheer expression and intelligence, you can probably guess which animals we’re meant to root for in this fight.
George resides at a wildlife enclosure and is cared for primatologist Davis, played by the always muscular and charismatic Dwayne Johnson. It makes sense; only someone as buff and likable as Dwayne Johnson could not only connect well with a gorilla, but also joke around with him and play jokes on his newbie care staff. So when George starts going nutty, its Davis to the rescue to find a cure. Sure, he’ll get in on the action, but there’s only so much running, jumping, and gunning Johnson can do in a giant monster movie, short of becoming a giant monster himself. Damn, that’d be a hell of a wrestling match.
Somewhat knowing of the formula, Peyton tries to play up his human characters to be as cartoonish and over-the-top as the creatures. Sadly, they all seem just a hair short of being appealing figures. Dwayne Johnson casually strolls through this film, putting on a show of muscles, moves, and smirks as he always does. Malin Åkerman plays the evil president of the gas-developing conglomerate, strutting around in sexy suits and seems to be one fiendish idea short of a maniacal laugh. Jake Lacy is Åkerman’s cowering cohort that is terrified of going to prison for his wrongdoing and seems to have some form of fast food in his hands in every scene in the office. Jeffrey Dean Morgan slaps on a suit to play a government agent, but he’s mostly reprising his Negan character from The Walking Down, smirking and swaggering with talk of badassery.
But just when it seems the film finds its groove of placing tongues firmly in cheeks, the script reverts back to those old monster movie tropes I wished remained dead. Namely, there’s a truckload of exposition present to try to make sense of this all. Naomie Harris plays the obligatory scientist that must show up to state the explanations for this giant monster madness. The gas ingested by the animals contains the finest genes of animals that allows for regeneration, mutations, flight, blah blah blah. So overblown is this aspect it nearly wrecks the carnage-driven third act where the giant monsters get to do their thing. And while it is fun watching an ape, wolf, and crocodile play the game of who can destroy Chicago first, I couldn’t help but feel there should be more with a handful of shots that are too far from a distance. When a giant ape is flipping tanks and eating people, I don’t want to watch it from the safe-distance news copter; I want to be right there in the action looking up at this frightening beast. The few medium close-up shots showcase how much more effective and entertaining this aspect can be.
Rampage certainly fits the bill for any kid that wants to watch more giant monster action akin to the likes of Jurassic World, Godzilla, and King Kong. But unlike those recent entries in the genre, there’s rarely a moment that sticks out the way Godzilla shot atomic breath into a monster’s mouth or King Kong ate an octopus. With so much potential left untapped, this is a movie that certainly gets the job done, even if it’s not that memorable. School kids may find the schoolyard relaying of highlights a tad difficult when the shocker moments of eating people and decapitation don’t pack as hefty a punch.