“Rampage” the film is based on an arcade game of the same name from 1986 that spawned numerous sequels, with all the games revolving around the simple premise of a giant gorilla, giant lizard-monster and a giant wolf all attacking a city. Thankfully, “Rampage” decides to just run with that simple premise right off instead of inflating the plot with numerous complex subplots. To give you an idea of how quickly the film cuts to what the audience is here for (monsters smashing things), right at the start of the movie, we get one scene establishing the friendship between primatologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) and an albino gorilla named George (portrayed through by motion-capture by Jason Liles) before George is infected by a canister containing a toxin that begins to increase his size and aggression.
Davis Okoye wants to know what’s happening to his best pal in the whole wide world and enlists the help of a scientist working for the company behind the toxin, Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), a company whose maniacal leader Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman) is looking to use George and two other animals infected by separate canisters of toxin to her advantage. From there, Claire puts into action an evil plan that I still don’t fully understand and is overtly a thinly-veiled way to get the three big monsters to Chicago so they can wreak havoc. All of this is packed into a movie that moves at a whirlwind pace that ensures the credits start rolling right around the 100-minute mark. Like I said, “Rampage” has no time for bloat in its storytelling.
Cutting things down to the bare minimum is an advantage for “Rampage” in some ways, but it’s also a deterrent in others. I’m still not sure if this movie actually wants the viewer to care about Okoye and Caldwell and their individual plights, but either way, their character arcs suffer from a sense of being undercooked, especially Okoye’s disdain for human beings that never gets a proper resolution. At least this characters journey within the film leads to a tonally out-of-place to a bonkers degree flashback where he recounts to Cadwell how he first rescued George as a two-year-old who was watching poachers slaughter his mother. Placing this scene in the middle of a light-hearted monster movie romp like “Rampage” feels akin to placing one of the bleakest sequences from Satantango right into the middle of Volcano.
Whatever one can say about “Rampage,” it’s certainly not lacking for craziness even when the monsters are off-screen. Just look at Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a government agent with a thick southern accent that speaks in colloquialisms like the goat in “Hoodwinked!” spoke in song. Morgan’s an utter riot in this and gets plenty of chances to deliver delightfully absurd dialogue. Meanwhile, Akerman is frequently fun as a villain whose never imposing in the slightest but is constantly lurking around her corporate office with a pet rat reveling in her villainy, which is very much a plus.
The fact that most of the humans are just a bunch of caricatures keeps “Rampage” reasonably diverting for it’s first two acts. Then there’s all the monster stuff that gets the spotlight in the third act, which is easily where “Rampage” excels the most — and since that’s the one area where it really needed to bring the goods, that’s great news for the overall film. Director Brad Peyton has vastly improved as a filmmaker from his last Dwayne Johnson blockbuster, “San Andreas,” there’s a sense of grandeur to the way these monsters are presented that makes the assorted monster mayhem that follows especially fun to watch.
The idea to hew as closely to stylized fun as possible in the human characters extends to the monster fights, which have these beasties flinging human beings into the sky like they’re Team Rocket blasting off. It’s surprisingly enjoyable to watch, even if it feels like the movie is straining to figure out how exactly Dwayne Johnson can still have any kind of impact on the story. “Rampage” was basically made just for this VFX-heavy climax, so it’s kind of a miracle that any of the characters or scenes prior to this are remotely entertaining. The film as a whole is clunky in so many ways and the way it wastes Naomie Harris in a disposable lead role is tragic, but I actually had quite a bit of fun watching it, with even a number of the non-monster oriented sequences tending to have some sort of odd acting or writing decision that garnered my attention. Being so bombastically goofy is how you end up with the debatably honorable distinction of being the best video game movie of all-time like “Rampage.”
Douglas Laman is a film critic, who, when not watching movies, attends Collin College, hangs out with friends and… watches movies. For more of his work and ramblings, visit his website at www.landofthenerds.blogspot.com