Rampage | Brad Peyton | April 13, 2018
Where do you even begin with Rampage, the latest April blockbuster starring wrestler turned action star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson? Its roots are in Rampage: World Tour, a 1980s arcade game turned N64 console game that has spawned sequels, but those are mostly discarded (as if there was much of a story to start) until near the end of the film in favor of an overarching mad science/evil corporation plot and man-gorilla friendship anchoring subplot.
The 2nd video game adaptation of the year, this one from San Andreas director Brad Peyton (also Incarnate & Journey 2) and screenwriters Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse (yes, the showrunner Carlton Cuse), Ryan J. Condal, and Adam Sztykiel, follows San Diego-based ex-Special Forces-turned-primatologist Davis Okoye (Johnson) and his rescued albino gorilla bestie George (mo-capped by Jason Liles). Their bond is tested when George is accidentally dosed with an aerosolized genetic editing cocktail in a canister that fell from Athena-1, an ISS-like space station where Energyne, the company lead by siblings Claire and Brett Wyden (the scheming Malin Akerman and doofus-y Jake Lacy), was conducting in-movie illegal CRISPR (genetic editing) experiments. As luck and science would have it in monster movies, shit goes sideways, leading to the growing and aggressive George, the spiked “flying” giant wolf nicknamed Ralph, and the gigantic dino-like crocodile named Lizzie. Attempts to save and research George, with help from ex-Energyne geneticist Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) and hammy unnamed-government-agency agent Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), lead to the Wydens triggering a subsonic signal to cause the affected animals to rampage and head to Chicago to stop the signal … so it’s up to Okoye, Caldwell, and Russell to save Chicago from being razed by the animal trio or several MOABs, as well as save George. Yeah, that’s an overly and unnecessarily complicated mouthful.
If you’re expecting giant mutated animal chaos, you get it, but you have to wait, as Rampage is frontloaded with exposition about genetic editing and evil corporations trying to cover up said genetic editing, along with the federal investigation/military response. That’s not to say you don’t get rampaging through a good portion of the film, but it’s the last half hour or so – and not really a tense half hour. Expectations aren’t so high, as they’ve been dampened by the deluge of TV spots filled with “GEOOOOORGE!” cries and Dave & Busters being torn to shreds. Hell, the TV spots and trailers are mostly of the rampaging, which (while key to the film) isn’t the whole film. An hour-45-minute film of monsters destroying a city would get old fast … which is why there’s more focus on the humans, but that isn’t handled so well against the backdrop of giant mutated animals. The dialogue is as campy and exposition-filled as you’d expect, and Johnson’s delivery sometimes sells it, and the relationship with George somewhat helps, but that’s mostly lost among the chaos of the last half hour – groan-worthy crude hand-signed jokes included. Morgan, however, is relishing his Texan cowboy accent, chewing through his exposition-y bits. Harris does well enough, but there are moments where her American accent slips, which ruins things a bit. Akerman and Lacy, meanwhile, are underdeveloped and paper-thin villain tropes. Oh, and speaking of their characters and meta product placement, keen eyes might catch a Rampage arcade cabinet in their Sears/Willis Tower office.
For an April popcorn blockbuster, it’s average. For a video game adaptation (a VERY loosely based one, at that), it’s just stepping over the generally low bar. There are issues (tone included, as Rampage was unsure of how serious it was and how serious it wanted to be taken), but if this is your kind of film, you might get a kick out of it. I personally didn’t find much fun in it, as the city-destroying creature feature has become a trope within itself. However, the fact that it’s a creature feature with two PoC leads is a bright spot, as far as I’m concerned. With all the release date shifts to get ahead of Avengers: Infinity War, Rampage might enjoy a spot in the box office top 5 this weekend, but in the long run, I don’t think it’ll be remembered too fondly.