Directed by: Brad Peyton
Premise: Based on the video game. A biotech company creates a virus that mutates animals into enormous and aggressive monsters. A primatologist and a geneticist (Dwayne Johnson and Naomie Harris) must stop three animals from destroying Chicago.
What Works: Rampage is a contemporary version of monster movies from decades ago like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and Destroy All Monsters. This is first and foremost a special effects spectacle and as that Rampage succeeds. The plot is really a series of set pieces strung together by a thin pretense but each action sequence is different from one another and the movie builds with the creatures bigger and the action busier and more outrageous until the film gets to its city shattering climax. We’ve seen urban areas destroyed in many blockbuster movies but the action of Rampage distinguishes itself. It may seem strange to use the word “restrained” to describe a film in which the Willis Tower is scaled and destroyed by a giant gorilla and a mutated crocodile but compare the climax of Rampage with similar sequences in Man of Steel and the Transformers films. By comparison, the action of Rampage is impressive in its clarity. The filmmakers establish where the characters are going and why and maintain a basic geography of action and locations. The climax of Rampage is as big as anything in these other movies but it maintains a coherence that is lost in so many similar sequences. Rampage is also distinguished by the relationship between the primatologist, played by Dwayne Johnson, and the oversized gorilla named George (Jason Liles in a motion captures performance). The human and ape characters have a likable rapport and Johnson’s character puts himself in danger to save his simian friend. The relationship between the primatologist and the gorilla puts something organic and emotional at the center of an otherwise digital confection. That makes the action engaging and the combination of an empathetic man-and-animal relationship with the well-executed special effects sequences makes Rampage a satisfyingly fun popcorn adventure.
What Doesn’t: Rampage is about giant mutant animals unleashing havoc on a major city and so it may seem superfluous to criticize this movie for being stupid. But even allowing for what Rampage is trying to be, it is guilty of some thoughtless storytelling. The military leaders and the corporate villains make a lot of decisions that don’t make any sense. The primatologist and geneticist played by Dwayne Johnson and Naomie Harris have inside information about the creatures but they are ignored by the military leaders. Meanwhile, the corporate antagonists, played by dually miscast actors Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy, decide that the way to get themselves and their company out of trouble is to set off a homing beacon that will lure the monsters into downtown Chicago, knowing that the beasts will level the city. And they do that in spite of possessing an antidote. If that weren’t inexplicable enough, the villains then wait until the last minute to leave the city. This is all transparently concocted to justify the spectacular property destruction of the climax. It’s lazy writing and the schlocky nature of the story is no excuse for it.
Bottom Line: Rampage is dumb fun. This isn’t great storytelling but it is a satisfying spectacle that is better crafted and more entertaining than a lot of Hollywood’s popcorn releases.
Episode: #695 (April 22, 2018)