Inspired by the classic arcade game of the same name, Rampage is utterly ridiculous, campy, yet also self-aware enough to be kinda sorta dumb fun. It’s exactly the mindless, formulaic romp it’s been sold as, with star Dwayne Johnson trying to carry the whole thing on his charm. But even The Rock can only do so much when a movie’s this absurd.
After an insanely awful “genetic editing” formula is accidentally unleashed, three wild animals are transformed into giant mutants who go on a, yes, rampage. It’s then up to ape whisperer Davis Okoye (Johnson) to save his animal buddy, the city of Chicago, and the day.
Rampage boasts a stone cold stupid script ladened with some hilariously on-the-nose and cringe-worthy dialogue, especially when it comes to all the pseudo-science involved in turning everyday animals into giant monsters. This thankless task is mostly left to Naomie Harris to deliver. The Oscar nominee’s very presence classes up her stock character, Dr. Kate Caldwell, enough that I hope whatever houseboat Harris did this paycheck movie for is as big as one of the giant monsters she’s stuck explaining.
If the internet joke is that the Fast and Furious movies were written by a five-year-old boy then Rampage feels like it was written by this same kid at age ten. He’s developed a few more nuanced thoughts, but it’s all still basically “Boom! Smash! Vroom!” Rampage is this generation’s Q: The Winged Serpent, yet it’s still not even as thoughtful as that cheesy, old giant monster cult classic.
Dwayne Johnson anchors the film with his requisite mix of self-effacing humor, machismo, and heart. His character is a ludicrously over-credentialed badass: a former special forces soldier-turned-anti-poaching operative turned primatologist. Davis can handle guns, apes, helicopters, sleeper holds, sign language — you name it. Because he’s The Rock so of course he bloody can. Johnson clearly knows how insipid the whole thing is and owns it, lending the proceedings some tiny dose of emotional sincerity.
The bond between George the albino ape and Davis is the heart of the film. It’s all very sweet, but George is already preternaturally intelligent and emotional before his accidental transformation. This makes the formula’s effect on him seem more like ‘roid rage than the horrific evolution that befalls the wolf and the crocodile. George ultimately seems more human than most of the human characters in Rampage, which is probably the point but it doesn’t do much to convince you the movie needed most of them then.
Speaking of which … In addition to Naomie Harris, the cast also includes Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who is essentially playing “Agent Negan”. Morgan delivers all his lines with the exact same cadence, drawl, and swagger as his Walking Dead villain except Agent Harvey Russell is not as much of a bad guy.
Joe Manganiello also pops up as Burke the merc, a small, one-note role that never registers the way the filmmakers probably thought it might. P.J. Byrne and Jack Quaid are set-up early on as Johnson’s comic relief colleagues before disappearing almost entirely from the film. Even the most pedestrian of summer action blockbusters would’ve paid off these supporting characters later on but that’s not the case with Rampage.
But of all the characters in this movie none are as poorly served as its blazingly dumb villains, whose scheme doesn’t even qualify as half-baked. As greedy, immoral CEO Claire Wyden, Malin Akerman is asked to deliver bad dialogue and scowl, while a mugging Jake Lacy plays her weaselly and equally irredeemable brother Brett. Their villainous plot makes absolutely no sense, especially when they think they can not only get away with it all, but profit handsomely from it to boot. Try as they might to shift suspicion away from themselves, there’s simply no way anyone else could be responsible for all this carnage. Even a giant ape could’ve figured that out.
On a technical level, the creature designs and visual effects by Weta are all fine save for the wolf, who is definitely the weakest link of the three giant monsters. While George looks real and the crocodile is scary, the wolf always looks CG-animated, never quite capturing the photorealism or detail of either of the other two main beasts.
Directed by Brad Peyton as a string of increasingly over-the-top action set-pieces, Rampage isn’t the film that will save video game movies let alone have people start taking them seriously — nothing here helps the genre level up. But Rampage is also exactly what it sold itself as: a big, silly, loud, dumb piece of hyperbolic escapism starring a living cartoon. (No, not George.) It’s tough to be upset then that Rampage is as stupid and hackneyed as it is when it never presented itself as trying to be anything else but. On that lowest level of accomplishment then Rampage achieves precisely what it wanted.