7 out of 10
Dwayne Johnson as Davis Okoye
Directed by Brad Peyton
Director Brad Peyton has worked with Dwayne Johnson before on big special effects extravaganzas, so it makes sense that in this latest big special effects extravaganza, Johnson’s best stuff is when he’s acting opposite a CGI giant monster ape. It’s when Johnson acts opposite people that the film stumbles a bit, but this isn’t a movie one sees for the performances – we’re here to see The Rock and a bunch of giant creatures blow up a city (in this case, Chicago, and fans of the Sears-now-Willis Tower should probably prepare themselves). It’s a monster movie based on a video game starring The Rock. Nuance and subtlety may be playing in the next theater over, but it sure isn’t playing here.
And that’s fine. Make no mistake – Rampage gives you exactly what it’s selling, even if the trailers seem to concentrate on the last half-hour of the movie. I really loved the video game when I was younger, and I especially loved when your giant monster character grabbed someone out of a window and ate them, chewing all the way. That was always my favorite part of what is a silly but entertaining game, and I’m happy to report that some of that mayhem makes its way into the movie. The destruction of the movie is what you come to see, and it delivers on that front. I even admire how Peyton and Johnson try to inject a bit of emotion and heart into Rampage, even when it doesn’t always work. This film’s playing for the cheap seats, and it doesn’t apologize for it.
Now, if you’re asking for logic, or rational human decisions, again, try the next theater over, because there isn’t any of that here. The villains of the film, Claire and Brett Wyden (Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy) are trying to test out a new genetic pathogen, and things go badly, so they try to clean up their mess, which somehow involves luring a giant ape, a flying wolf, and a mutated alligator straight into downtown Chicago. On paper, their plan makes absolutely no sense, but it doesn’t matter when it’s all about the flying debris. Unfortunately for them, the ape is an albino gorilla named George, who has a close friendship to former poacher-hunter Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) before George gets exposed. Davis wind up chasing George across the country, trying, along with Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), who was one of the pathogen’s creators, to find a cure. Also along the ride is Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan in one of the most exaggerated cowboy drawls I’ve ever heard), a government agent who describes his job as, “When science sh*ts the bed, I’m here to change the sheets.”
Johnson is earnest, and he plays well off of George, injecting crowd-pleasing, crude humor when it’s necessary. But much of the swagger that we’re used to seeing from him in other movies is dialed down a few notches here. Johnson knows that he’s only one of the main attractions in this film. The rest is computer-generated mayhem, which to Brad Peyton’s credit, is done very well here. The monsters, when they are in full attack mode, are impressive, and the main setpiece in downtown Chicago is always visually interesting and has real scope. While his Texas drawl-accent is amped up way past 11 (and gets much thicker as the movie progresses), Morgan’s character is surprisingly effective; most of the time in movies like this the government agent is either incompetent or a villain, but once Russell sees what Davis and Dr. Caldwell are trying to do, he offers real support to their efforts, which I liked.
I know I’m coming off snarky here, so why do I put Rampage in the win column? Because when a movie calls its target like this and hits it, time and time again, I have to admire that. Rampage knows exactly what it is and what it’s trying to accomplish. It’s not reinventing the wheel. The posters sell this movie as exactly what it is. And it’s a well-edited film. It gets to where it wants to go in an efficient, riveting manner, and if some character work is lost, well, that’s just a distraction anyway. Have I seen better work from the actors involved here? Sure I have. But they turn into the skid rather than fight it, and commit to the goings-on, no matter how silly or nonsensical. There is fun to be had, and not a lot of bloat; a Roland Emmerich or a Michael Bay would have padded this thing out to unbearable levels, but Brad Peyton keeps everything close and tight.
Sometimes you want an elaborate meal, and sometimes you want a cheeseburger. Rampage gives good cheeseburger.