Anyone who used to play old arcade games in the ‘80s and ‘90s was familiar with Rampage. The concept behind the game was simple: you chose between three monsters – George, a giant ape; Lizzie, a giant lizard; or Ralph, a giant wolf – and smashed the living hell out of buildings, eating people screaming for help out of the windows. That was it. The fact that there’s no story to speak of made the concept of adapting Rampage for the big screen a suspect choice, as it’s simply a climactic set piece and nothing else. Those obstacles can’t stand in the way of the world’s biggest movie star, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who reteams with his San Andreas director Brad Peyton to bring the monster mayhem of Rampage to the cinema. Unsurprisingly, basing a movie upon a video game with no story to speak of leads to a movie with severe story and character issues, a collection of uneven, borderline incoherent scenes leading up to a climax of smashy smashy chaos. Rampage is the movie for those who thought Pacific Rim: Uprising was too intellectual.
Rampage opens in space. Yes, outer space. There a scientist is working on a top secret and illegal project of genetic editing for Engyne, a company run by the villainous siblings Brett (Jake Lacy) and Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman). The experiment has gone awry and as the space station crashes to Earth the fruits of those illegal experiments land in three corners of the United States. One of canisters lands in a wildlife preserve in San Diego where primatologist Davis Okoye (Johnson) trains and studies apes, focusing mainly on George (Jason Liles in a motion capture performance), an albino gorilla that has become his best friend. While George grows exponentially from this mysterious substance, so does a wolf and an alligator in far off places. Once these creatures begin to grow, a variety of people come out of the woodwork scrambling to address the growing situation – Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), a former researcher for Engyne, Agent Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a brash cowboy who is called into “change the sheets” when “science shits the bed”, and Burke (Joe Manganiello), a mercenary hired by the Wydens.
What is the great masterful plan of the Wyden siblings? To have the three enormous creatures race to a beacon they’ve set up in Chicago and then just kind of wing it from there. How are they going to use this research for profit? Eh, they’re still working on the details. The Wydens are some of the worst villains to grace the screen this year, with hammy, over-the-top performances and a script that is completely disinterested in providing them any kind of motivation for their actions. They are characters that only exist so they can brutally dispatched by their monstrous creations in the final act. If you consider that a spoiler, I’m sorry to give away such a detail before you had the chance to see your first movie ever.
Meanwhile, The Rock’s Davis Okoye is basically up for whatever task is presented before him. He’s a former Special Forces soldier who left that life behind to tend to the animals, think Dr. Doolittle with a grenade launcher. He can fly a helicopter when the plot necessitates it. Dwayne Johnson is a force of charisma and yet the screenplay (credited to four different writers including San Andreas’ Carlton Cuse) has little interest in challenging the character, nor do they capitalize on his charismatic presence. A large portion of Dwayne Johnson’s role here necessitates him yelling “George!” before running off to the next location. Rampage struggles in finding the proper way to use Johnson because it has a hard time settling in on a tone, sometimes dabbling in high camp and other times taking itself deadly serious.
Rampage definitely feels like chunks of the film landed on the cutting room floor in order to just get to the action and dispense with the characters that just don’t connect. There are quite a few characters that are introduced and just disappear after a scene or two. The film doesn’t take time to breathe, which would be great if the action and chaos were actually fun and not just out of an obligation to deliver the audience with a computer generated monster mash. It’s truly a shame because the film really wastes a strong motion capture performance by Jason Liles as George with WETA continuing the stellar work they did on the recent Planet of the Apes films. George is the film’s standout character and sadly the character is only truly present at the start and finish of the film, spending much of the running time in a drug-induced rage in order to facilitate plenty of smashing.
Those who saw Dwayne Johnson and Brad Peyton’s last collaboration, San Andreas, know what to expect from Rampage. Expect a movie that is big, loud, and dumb. One thing is missing in this combination – fun. Never does Rampage actually become dumb fun. It’s just dumb. Earlier this year, the curse of the video game movie was lifted with Tomb Raider. Rampage takes us back to square one with a movie that is simply a collection of scenes from better movies. It’s a movie that has no personality of its own. The film does deliver a chaotic finale full of mayhem caused by giant monsters tearing apart Chicago. What it doesn’t deliver is a reason to care about what happens.