Video game movies are making a bit of a comeback this year, but they aren’t any more respected as in the past. This being said, there was one special case that nearly blew my socks off this year with “Tomb Raider,” the Alicia Vikander reboot that was hit-or-miss for critics, but warmed my heart as a massive fan of the rebooted game series. “Rampage,” coming less than a month off the heels of “Tomb Raider” (and from the same distributor), is something with a little less adaption fatigue to work with. The original “Rampage” game didn’t have as fleshed out of a narrative as a lot of video game films do and have to confine themselves by, which can help and hurt a film like this. What can’t help but lift the film to potential glory is the inclusion of newfound mega-star Dwayne Johnson at the helm of it. It’s not necessarily that Johnson will take any role thrown at him, but he does find ways to improve the films, both great and bad, he finds himself in.
And that rings true for “Rampage,” only so far.
Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) is a primatologist working in San Diego at a wildlife sanctuary, with primary care of a rare albino gorilla named George. One night, when a space station breaks apart in the atmosphere, samples of an extreme animal growth hormone also fall to earth into George’s enclosure, causing him to grow immensely and develop strong aggression. With a wolf from Wyoming and an alligator from the Everglades of Florida also exposed, the world becomes increasingly confused and scared by their newfound threat to humanity. The engineers of such hormones, the malevolent Wyden siblings Claire (Malin Akerman) and Brett (Jake Lacy) of Energyne Industries, send out a radio signal to converge upon their Chicago offices to retrieve their accidental experiments. Meanwhile, former Energyne employee and initial developer of the hormone Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) joins Davis and government agent Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to stop the creatures before they destroy everything.
“Rampage” is stupid, but you already knew that. This film is unapologetic in its ridiculous premise and complete batshit crazy approach to everything. I honestly can commend a movie that tries so hard to take things so not-seriously, and for that, “Rampage” is a blast at some points. The biggest thing about “Rampage” is that its stupid elements can only get it so far before we start to ask it to start doing something unique, which “Rampage” never really gets around to. The destruction seen in the film, and dammit there is a lot of it, isn’t something we haven’t seen in countless “Transformers” films and “Avengers” films in the past, with the latter doing it much better previously. Still, its self-awareness saves it from becoming as rote as something like the “Transformers” movies have, and its sense of humor is present and genuine to administer quite a few laughs in the brink of the madness.
“Rampage” also suffers from some tonal issues, as some honestly horrific stuff will unfold upon the screen, then followed up by a joke meant to soften the blow of it, but often will simply exacerbate the blow dealt by it. It doesn’t ruin the film by any means, but the balance between the dark and light is a push/pull relationship that often times doesn’t push/pull in the right direction.
Performances across the board are what make this film quite enjoyable, as this is a well-seasoned cast with a lot of talent saying and doing some truly batshit things. Johnson, no stranger to big action, is right at home here, and his charisma and charm really help him push the film to a great service with a likable and present protagonist that is often wasted on in films such as this. Akerman’s villain is deliciously campy, the type that any actress would kill to play at least one time in their career, and Akerman makes the most of it. Morgan also camps it up with his hilariously Texan anti-hero that has more one-liners than any other character I’ve seen in a film since Mr. Freeze in “Batman & Robin,” and Morgan hits all his cues perfectly.
Some performances do fall a bit flat, primarily that of Harris, but to not fault of Harris’ execution. The character of Kate Caldwell is simply boring and underwritten, which is a shame given the wonderful female antagonist developed on-screen with far less screen time, I was hoping that Harris would get the same service as Akerman did in the screenplay. Harris is simply there, without much to do on screen at all but follow Johnson. Lacy also struggles next to Akerman as his comedic instincts sometimes cause him to go too overboard in his campiness in his villain. I didn’t think it would’ve been possible to over-camp a performance in a film like this, but Lacy proved it.
One great thing about “Rampage” is that it’s very stylish and well-directed, which makes the guilty pleasure aspects on the film even more pleasurable. When a film can be unapologetically dumb, but still have the dignity to try to create a fleshed out and attractive film is admirable. I like that even for the younger viewers who might not even view what’s going in “Rampage” as inherently ridiculous, but more of a by-product of a childhood imagination, Brad Peyton’s direction of the film still leaves something for everyone to enjoy and appreciate about “Rampage.”
And I think that’s what I liked most about “Rampage”: its childlike wonder. It’s sometimes too dark and occasionally a bit rote in its execution of action, but Peyton does a nice job in creating a glossy, if batshit film about the relationship between man and (giant) animal. It’s a guilty pleasure Friday night movie begging to be seen on the biggest screen possible (I chose Dolby Cinema for my experience). Johnson is as charming as ever; I had a major soft spot for Akerman’s wonderfully camp villain, and the film is fun in most elements. Save for a number of issues that really shouldn’t affect the sheer entertainment value of the film, “Rampage” slightly rocks.
Directed by: Brad Peyton
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
Runtime: 107 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief language and crude gestures.
Also available in RealD 3D, Dolby Cinema and IMAX.
New Line Cinema presents, in association with ASAP Entertainment, a Wrigley Pictures/FPC/7 Blocks Entertainment production, a Brad Peyton film, “Rampage”