What does “Rampage,” the latest from “San Andreas” director Brad Peyton have going for it other than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson? Well, it’s… uh, based on a ’80s video game! Oh, you don’t — okay… it’s got Negan from “The Walking Dead” in it! Don’t watch that anymore? Alright, have you heard of CRISPR, here depicted as a magic DNA editing gas? You’re right, that does sound stupid.
Fine, whatever. “Rampage” is out in theaters and you know it has Dwayne Johnson and giant city-wrecking animals. Is it adequately entertaining? Here’s what reviewers are saying:
The Story Has Nothing To Do With The Game (Fair Enough)
Johnson plays a primatologist named Davis Okoye who used to work in the military before focusing on saving gorillas from poachers. He has a bond with an albino gorilla named George, a frisky primate who has been taught sign language by Okoye (including how to give someone the middle finger).
George, whose growth spurt comes with blinding rage, is the least of the gang’s problems. They also have to contend with the ravenous flying wolf that emerges from a radioactive blast crater in Montana, and the reptilian leviathan growing out of a bubbling gene pool in the Everglades. The mutant fuel literally drops out of the sky, raining down from the fiery remains of an orbiting laboratory.
Along the way, they get some help from Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan in full Negan mode), a drawling federal agent with sympathetic containment goals, and match wits with Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman), the nefarious CEO of the company that created the whole catastrophe.
It’s Dumb, But It Never Goes Full-On Campy
Rampage, directed by San Andreas maestro Brad Peyton, feels like something that accidentally got sent down the wrong tube to a slightly-too-fancy casting director (Manganiello, Naomie Harris, and Malin Akerman are all here, bafflingly) and a guaranteed wide release. Despite its insistent name-checking of CRISPR gene-editing to … root the flying wolf in scientific reality, I guess … this is in fact way more SyFy than Sci-Fi, one shark short of a Sharknado.
At one point Claire says: “Lucky for us our building has some of the most powerful radio antennae on the face of the earth.” (Another dialogue gem goes like this: “Colonel, what everybody needs to understand is that we’re no longer dealing with a wolf and a gorilla.” The movie has four credited screenwriters.)
It’s not a movie for critics, that much is clear. The problem is that it’s not for anyone else, either.
The Special Effects Are Good… Well, Sort Of? Maybe Not?
The visual effects, supervised by Colin Strause and created by several companies including Weta, are absolutely first-rate. Whenever the animals, both normal- and outsized, are doing their thing, the illusion is complete and frequently thrilling, particularly during the final half hour, when the titans converge on the Windy City.
There comes a point when one of the characters falls into George’s mouth, and this descent is no more or less visually convincing than when Alfred Hitchcock had Norman Lloyd fall off of the Statue of Liberty in “Saboteur,” a movie that was made over 70 years ago.
The Hokey Plotting And Orgiastic Destruction Both Work To Just Tire You Out
There is, as Joe Bob Briggs would put it, too much plot getting in the way of the story here, and Rampage bogs down somewhat in its midsection, sidelining its ever-enlarging beasts in favor of melodramatics amongst the standard-issue supporting players dealing with them.
Rampage grows exhausting before long, ramping up quickly from plane wrecks to explosive detonations to, once again, the demolition of Chicago, Illinois by otherworldly beings. That one of Rampage‘s key stylistic influences appears to be Transformers: Dark of the Moon is just one of its problems; that its onscreen action often turns muddy to the point of near-unwatchability is a far bigger one.
It’s Definitely A Role Fit For Johnson, But Not A Great One
Johnson has proven that he’s one of the most charismatic performers on the planet. His collaborations with Peyton, however, feel like the work of a man who’s being swallowed alive by his brand. Johnson wants everyone to love him — he wants to be the glistening international symbol for a good time at the movies — but the bigger he gets, the smaller he appears.
He’s a generally reliable performer, but I have to say it seems he had less fun here than he did in the recent “Jumanji.”
As much as anything, it recalls the paper-thin, custom-tailored action star vehicles of the ’90s, which puts Rock somewhere in the Eraser phase of his Schwarzenegger trajectory. It’s a film built to showcase his charisma at every turn, in part because Johnson is about the only particularly magnetic or noteworthy thing about it.
It Sounds Like ‘Rampage’ Leans Into More Objectionable Macho Crap Than Johnson’s Other Roles
Davis has all the time in the world for the reserve’s albino gorilla, George, and very little time for basically the entire human genus, even including the thigh gap-flaunting blond intern who asks him to teach her the ways of domination in the animal kingdom.
I wondered if I had accidentally wandered into a narrative adaptation of a Mike Cernovich book, all the way up to the point where a blushing blonde, impressed with Davis’s handling of the gorillas, asks if they can discuss his “submission techniques” over drinks sometime. It doesn’t come off as a joke about Johnson’s cartoonish Superman persona so much as an earnest advertisement for how not to be, in his words, a “candyass.”
Multiple Critics Were Put Off By Some Unsubtle 9/11 Stuff
Peyton tends to heighten the gritty realism of his city-smashing death tolls to an unnerving extent, and there are points in Rampage at which the campy fun of it all is undercut by the oddly unsettling reality of a boat full of meticulously animated tourists being dropped to their screaming deaths, or a hapless sidekick being bloodily smashed to death by skyscraper debris for a late-film laugh.
Or to put it another way: your possibly self-consciously stupid Rock-starring pre-summer actioner is all fun and games until you invoke 9/11. The three mutant animals, drawn by a radio frequency being emitted by Wyden Technologies from the Willis antenna (whatever, just go with me) all scale the building, smashing it as they go up, and inevitably bringing it down in a cloud of debris and smoke. Plenty of movies have dredged up our anxieties of death and destruction in American cities since 2001, but few have re-created them with such faithfulness, and even fewer in service of a giant flying wolf.
Sometimes the gearshifts are louder than Godzilla’s war cry: This is a movie that chases a shot of rescue workers evacuating a smoldering downtown Chicago—imagery that can’t help but evoke 9/11, especially when set to mournful music—with a giant ape doing the universal hand gesture for sex.
I’m not terribly convinced that the overtly campy version of this film would be any better, but I’m very certain that this one is bad.