Published on April 13th, 2018 | by Dan Nicholls0
Not even the electric charisma of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson can save Rampage, the latest bit of mediocrity in the realm of video game adaptations.
A mindless VFX-heavy blockbuster based on a video game from the 80s isn’t exactly what most general audiences want to see. In fact, they tend to avoid these adaptations like crazy. But the new film Rampage is holding a royal flush for audience engagement in the form of Dwayne Johnson, who is perhaps the most immediately likeable person on the planet. He’s got charm, charisma, a magnetic smile, and a megawatt aura of positivity. In short, he’s the perfect leading man. And yet even he can’t lift the dullness of Rampage from its lackluster screenplay and direction.
It would be disingenuous to hate on a movie that is by design intended to be loud, dumb fun. It’s about animal monsters fucking shit up – were you hoping for some pathos and emotion? Rampage isn’t trying to be accepted as an enduring piece of art, but even in its modest ambitions it doesn’t satiate your desire. In terms of story, Rampage moves its pieces around the action-adventure board while hitting enough satisfying beats to avoid being a complete filmmaking embarrassment. The film’s problem is that the execution of those beats never rises above anything other than mediocrity.
At the San Diego Wildlife Sanctuary, Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) is a tough guy with a deeply emotional bond with a particular albino gorilla named George (performed in motion capture by Jason Liles). It’s a match made in primate heaven until a canister containing a genetic-altering formula crash-lands in George’s vicinity and he becomes super strong, super fast, and super big. It isn’t long before he’s breaking out and headed on a collision course with a similarly altered crocodile and wolf in downtown Chicago. Why? Some bullshit about an evil corporation led by Claire Widen (Malin Akerman) and her dumbass brother. The entire setup is just a wasted two-thirds of a movie spent leading to its only redeemable act: letting the monsters loose to wreak mayhem.
There are a total of four credited writers on Rampage and not one of them is a funny person. That could’ve made all the difference; the film has a sense of humor but it isn’t funny enough to keep you pleased on the long march to CGI havoc. The movie doesn’t take itself seriously in the least but it also doesn’t possess a drop of wit. The whole thing plays as if it’s light camp: Just silly enough to give a few winks at the audience, but trying to keep it serious because, you know, it’s a feature film and all. Rampage isn’t nearly campy enough as it deserves to be.
VFX is leaned upon in a staggering amount almost throughout the entire runtime, but never more so than in its last half hour. It’s necessary in order to tell this story, of course, unless you know of some monster crocs hiding out somewhere (in which case we could be making some serious bank off that thing, bro). Using it as an excuse not to build practical sets, however, is a different story. Does anyone fully fall under the spell of something so digitally fashioned anymore? Keeping it a bit more real where reasonably feasible would’ve helped the fantastic computer-generated effects pop and wow even more.
Director Brad Peyton previously teamed with Johnson on the somehow more disastrous San Andreas. He’s a man who knows how to stage a spectacle but he suffers in the human department. The actors seem to have been left to their own devices, resulting in an alarmingly wide array of inconsistency and lack of harmony. Looking at Johnson close up as he tries to look concerned just feels woefully misdirected. The only person seemingly having a jolly old time on this one is Jeffrey Dean Morgan, currently best known as Negan on The Walking Dead. But as is wont to happen when there isn’t any performance guidance from a director, even he wavers to some extremes of inconsistency.
Rampage isn’t a game-changer for the struggling video game subgenre, but at least it’s more enjoyable than this March’s Tomb Raider reboot. Escapism doesn’t need to be justified but there are still options at the multiplex that will respect your hard-earned money more than this. No one who isn’t already down for the ride will ever be convinced to check this one out down the line. If this movie is immediately the type of thing you get giddy just thinking about, hit it on opening weekend on the biggest screen with the deepest bag of popcorn money can buy.