“The Rock” battling giant monsters in RAMPAGE. Need I say more?
Rampage is loosely based on a 1986 arcade game which allows its player to control a trio of genetically-enhanced monsters—a gorilla, a wolf, and a crocodile—whose goal is to reduce the surface of the earth into smithereens. It is quite bemusing how a game with such a thin narrative that can be limited to the word “smash” gets a motion picture deal. (Then again, this should not be a surprise in Hollywood.) But fear not, director Brad Peyton and his team of four writers manufactured a serviceable plot to justify the mass destruction that’s about to ensue. It’s your basic template of “scientific experiments go wrong, monsters are unleashed” so as expected, the film comes out as derivative as it can get: see Planet of The Apes, King Kong, Godzilla and every “Kaiju” film made. There’s nothing new here and frankly, it’s a lame excuse to supersize danger once again. And so, how does Rampage turn this tedious, exasperating monster fanfare into something truly enjoyable? The answer is by casting “The Rock” as its lead actor.
Dwayne Johnson has been a formidable, go-to actor when it comes to the disaster genre. (In an actual case of a natural disaster, I wouldn’t mind standing next to this guy.) He has this enviable inherent quality of elevating a source material. Not to mention, he plays nearly the same character wearing nearly the same gray shirt. In here, he is Davis Okoye, a primatologist who has a special bond with a silverback gorilla named George (motion capture played by Jason Liles). The two express their “bro-ape-mance” through sign language and friendly trash-talking with an undying loyalty as the emotional core that binds the film together.
This is Peyton’s third collaboration with Dwayne Johnson, and if you’ve seen their recent works (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and San Andreas), you’ll pretty much have a gauge of what to expect here, except Rampage is somehow better than the first two. It looks like Peyton’s goal here is to deliver a boisterous and nonsensical action fully-aware of its ludicrous plot. In doing so, expositions are heavily handed among characters to sell half-baked science concepts such as “genetic editing,” the reason why the animals are experiencing exponential growth giving them extra abilities such as flying. With the help of a discredited genetic engineer Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), Davis goes rogue and attempts to talk some sense into his former gorilla best friend. Rampage is so self-aware of how “bananas” it is that it almost loops back to being smart.
It’s only fitting that Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s caricaturish portrayal of Harvey Russell steps in the picture. “When science sh*ts the bed, I’m the one they call to change the sheets.” He’s a government agent who’s more interested in flaunting his smug looks and delivering his s-slow lines rather than actually saving the world. If anyone here watches The Walking Dead, he is essentially a pre-apocalypse, friendlier version of Negan. It’s clear to him what kind of film he’s in and he’s having a blast doing it. The good thing is, I am not yet getting tired of this ‘soon-to-be-hopefully-not Al Pacino brand of acting’.
The colossal showdown culminates in Chicago serving as the battleground. The shot of three beasts climbing the same tower looks menacingly glorious. Buildings and vehicles are smashed, military men and civilians are getting squashed – so much violence is happening in this film but Peyton wants his audience to root for Davis and George that viewers can almost easily switch-off their conscience, desensitize to all the deaths happening in the background and satisfy their lust for annihilation… if that’s not much of a wicked thing to say.
However, I can only take off my “thinking cap” for so long. A couple of questions inevitably pop through my head as a passing thought: How can a thermostat hack an entire network server? What is the actual purpose of the antidote? Why do the twin megalomaniac villains (Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy) summoned the monsters to their building with them still inside it? What happened to the few characters introduced at the beginning of the film? How can Davis withstand all the craziness of the third act with a bullet inside his stomach? Well, these eventually turn into rubble as the film eclipses them with a boisterous finale. The only response I get in the end is George flipping the bird to Davis. Because, let’s get real: viewers don’t really care about these. We came in for the “rampage” right? And certainly, the movie lives up to its title.
So this is where we’re at, an arcade game adaptation gets a good rating mainly due to the breezy charisma of Dwayne Johnson. Give him a cheesy line and he will sell it. In hindsight, if a different action hero headlines in this, the film will come out as a totally-different movie. Rampage’s plot gets buried by the end but it doesn’t matter: the CGI is outstanding and it is as big, loud and insane as it could be (the opening sequence involving a giant rat in space is already thrilling to watch). It’s brutal but it still somehow ends up as an enjoyable family film with a pace brisk enough to hold the attention of the kids.
With the right level of expectation, you should come out of the theater satisfied and perhaps with a stupid grin on your face.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, Rampage is now showing on PH cinemas.