Sometimes, you watch a movie to feel inspired or to understand the impact of a certain historical event. Other times, you watch a film for its visually stunning content and rich thematic subjects. Then, below that, there are films that allow you to turn your brain off for a couple of hours and simply enjoy the mayhem occurring on screen. This is a category of film where it will take an incredibly ridiculous concept and treat it with absolute seriousness and shows that the filmmakers are attempting to have as much fun making the film as the audience watching it. A big dumb blockbuster is something everyone can enjoy and that’s exactly where Brad Peyton’s Rampage falls under. Based on the 1980’s video game of the same name, Rampage is a project that embraces its ridiculousness and, with the help of a fairly charismatic cast, breaks the video-game adaptation curse as it leaves the baggage of every single video game film before it behind.
Rampage follows the story of Davis Okoye, a primatologist studying apes in San Diego, California. He has spent years forming a close friendship with an albino silverback gorilla named George, but finds their relationship beginning to change when a mysterious canister falls from space late one night and sprays George in the face with a bizarre chemical. The next day, George is discovered to not only be a noticeably bigger, but filled with enough rage to kill an enormous predator in a neighboring enclosure. Davis wants to help his friend, and gets much needed information about the origins of the chemical from scientist Dr. Kate Caldwell but it begins to look like any effort may be pointless. Not only is George growing bigger and even more out of control, but he is actually only one of three distinct creatures across the country that have been going through the crazy transformations.
This film, at its core, is basically an excuse to let Dwayne Johnson save the city of Chicago and look incredible doing it. It has a weird amount of fun with its ensemble cast but it is clear that Johnson took the role seriously and delivered a charismatic performance as the protagonist. Johnson is hilarious, heartfelt and charming in the role as we watch a buff human try to take on three oversized monsters in an action-packed fashion. Naomie Harris stars as genetic specialist Dr. Kate Caldwell and, while the character is not the most complex, Harris is solid as the female lead and it is great to see Harris in more action roles following her performances in Spectre and Moonlight. The scene-stealer in this film however goes to Jeffery Dean Morgan who provided the feature with some of the biggest laughs and best moments. As the cowboy-federal agent, Morgan is able to exude a ridiculous, over-the-top performance that would be considered ridiculous in almost any other film but is right in line with what Rampage was going for.
The plot for Rampage is a simple one but it mostly operates with a “who cares” mentality. The game it is based on revolves around radioactivity-enlarged critters staging a destructo-fest, climbing skyscrapers and busting them down. Walking into this film, the viewer can absolutely expect to see the exact same thing, even if it takes a while to get to it. Much of the action is set during the day time, meaning the audience will get a nice and real look at the three creatures wreaking havoc upon Chicago. The visuals for the film are stunning, especially the motion- capture work to bring the ape George to life, which is around the level of what was done for the rebooted Planet of the Apes trilogy. The crumbling of buildings as well as the sheer viciousness from the enlarged wolf as well demonstrate the feature’s dedication to embracing its video game roots in terms of all-out destruction. Quite frankly, it has been a long time since a PG-13 tentpole exhibited such a superficial disregard for human life. People are crushed under clawed feet, eaten alive, and tossed from great heights and that’s perfectly in keeping with the primeval, dreary, demolition-derby style of the game.
While the film may be outrageous as a whole, where it struggles is how it presents its main antagonists, both of which attempt to portray themselves as the mustache-twirling masterminds behind the evil plan, but stumble at every turn. Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy are the sibling owners of the corporation behind the DNA-altering substance dubbed Rampage, and it actually was their full intent to spawn giant animals. See, there is a limit to just how insane a film can get and here it crossed its own line. Akerman and Lacy were abysmal in their respective roles in addition to being poorly fleshed out characters with almost no real motivation for why they make the decisions they do. Evidently, the filmmakers chose the “some people just want to watch the world burn” shtick that was popularized in The Dark Knight, but in Rampage, there is no Heath ledger-style performance to elevate these villains past filler for the brisk film.
Rampage is a film that never aspires to be anything more than what it sets out to be, a big dumb monster film. It does not strive to have rich thematic elements or break the mold of action films. Instead, it opts to insert itself within Dwayne Johnson’s brand of loud action films that started with Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and most recently continued with The Fate of the Furious. It does not blend action, emotion and comedy as well as his previous films, but The Rock and co. have crafted something that, sure enough, will be remembered as the film where The Rock took on a giant wolf, gorilla and crocodile and had a fun time doing so. And that’s fine.
Nick’s Rating – 6.5/10
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