While I’m a big fan of Dwayne Johnson, my expectations going into the theater to see Rampage were pretty darn low. The trailer certainly makes it seem a daft monster movie and the video game to movie curse seemed likely to strike again. And then the film started and I was startled to realize that it was way better than I expected. In fact, the opening scene was terrific and completely unexpected. As the story progressed, however, it became all too clear that director Brad Peyton couldn’t resist dumb, sophomoric humor and by the end of the movie, it was all I’d feared. And yet, there are glimmers of a shockingly good sci-fi thriller about genetic manipulation, coupled with some darn impressive visual effects.
But let’s start at the beginning. For those that don’t know, Rampage is based on a video game that focuses on three monsters: George, a gigantic gorilla, Lizzie, a giant lizard, and Ralph, a giant werewolf. You play one of these beasts and advance in the game by destroying all the buildings in an unnamed city, eating people and destroying tanks, taxis, police cars, helicopters, boats, and anything else that gets in the way. Think Godzilla meets King Kong with a giant rabid dog thrown in for good measure. Not the most likely premise for a movie, but Rampage almost pulls it off.
The story revolves around primatologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) and his associate, geneticist Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris). Okoye long ago rescued and befriended George, an adult albino gorilla. When illegal genetic research pods crash into various spots in the United States, each affects and mutates a different beast: George, at the fictional San Diego Wildlife Sanctuary, a massive alligator in the Florida swamps and a wolf near Casper, Wyoming. The research is being done illicitly by Energyne Corporation, run by Claire (Malin Akerman) and Brett (Jake Lacy) Wyden. They’ll stop at nothing to get the results of their research and call in the mercenary Burke (Joe Manganiello) to hunt down the creatures and bring them to the lab.
Rounding out our roster of leading characters is the snarky, untrustworthy Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a government agent who somehow had control over the military, FBI and other agencies that get pulled into the chaos. Who is Russell and what are his motivations? Hard to say, actually. But it doesn’t really matter. In fact, reality check, this is not a serious movie and given that there are more gaffes and plot holes than a coffee shop has cups, you don’t need to take things so darn serious to enjoy Rampage.
But take the film a bit more seriously and you might just be surprised at what could have been with a bit more attention to detail, a bit less weirdly out of context crudeness and a bit less gore. Oh, and some better casting. In particular both Lacy and Akerman are terrible as the Wyden siblings. In fact, Jake Lacy is so miscast and so horrible and unbelievable that he might just find TV the way to go as he nurtures his career after this action movie.
The film’s carried by Johnson, though, who goes through it with his customary muscle flexing, nerdy, anti-social on-screen personality, sly grins and mischievous charm. In fact, Rampage is far from his worst film and turns out to be good, nutty fun. It’s really a perfect summer movie, silly, completely unbelievable and really requiring that you suspend your disbelief big time. [For example: You’re right, if you need to use a thick glove on one hand to pull something out of cryogenic storage, you should indeed have a glove on the other hand when you start taking it apart too]
With a smarter script and a bit more judicious editing, a cleanup of the continuity hiccups and some changes in casting this could have been a surprisingly good thriller, in the same category as the recent actioner Life. Instead it’s a solid popcorn film. So go in expecting that, laugh at the daft scenes, and enjoy a good monster romp as we head into summer tentpole season.