Directed by: Brad Peyton
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Naomi Harris, Malin Akerman, Jake Lacy, Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Rated: PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief language, and crude gestures.
It might seem foolish to make a movie out of a simplistic, old-school arcade game, but “Rampage” is aimed squarely at the nostalgic 12-year-old inside those of us who are old enough to remember the 1986 game. It is utterly ridiculous and utterly shameless about that ridiculousness. Grab some popcorn and prepare to turn off your brain.
There’s a story to justify the massive monsters that destroy a swath of downtown Chicago near the end of the film, but it’s more than a little hackneyed and barely merits recounting. Our good guys are Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson), former-special-forces-poacher-hunter-turned-primate-expert; George, the albino gorilla he rescued from poachers as a youngster; and Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomi Harris), a geneticist whose groundbreaking work was twisted into a pathogen that turns animals into gigantic monsters.
Our vilains are Claire (Malin Akerman) and Brett (Jake Lacey) Wyden, owners of the massive company that created the pathogen. Somewhere in the middle, we have agent Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a government suit with a cowboy drawl, cowboy belt buckle, and pearl-handled gun. He’s a bit of a wildcard, and Morgan clearly had a lot of fun in the role.
WETA Digital did the special effects, and it is very clear that just about every dollar of the effects budget went to the monsters. The other effects range from okay to almost-comically bad, but who cares if the flames on a burning helicopter look realistic? The monsters are what brings people to a movie like this, so they have to be great. George has a lot of personality, and the bond between him and Davis is clear. The other two monsters don’t need personalities and don’t have them – but they have more mutations than George, and are both pretty awesome. There’s a massive wolf with porcupine quills and flying squirrel style abilities, and an enormous crocodile with neck frills, tusks, and spikes.
Johnson is an old hand at action flicks like this by now, but he manages to deliver his mostly-one-liner dialog with good-natured sincerity and does a good job interacting with his CGI gorilla co-star. His massive, muscular build is increasingly dwarfed by George as the film goes on, and by the end he’s the most vulnerable character on the screen as he does his best to back up George while the gorilla battles the other monsters. Johnson reportedly said this was his most physically-demanding role to date, and it’s easy to believe.
In a lot of ways, “Rampage” is a live-action cartoon. It doesn’t always make much sense, but it sure is fun, in a mindless-destruction sort of way. It manages to avoid cramming in a romantic subplot between Davis and Dr. Kate (though George has some crudely-gestured ideas on that front), and it’s great to see a Black actress as the genius scientist. Add Johnson and we get a movie where two people of color plus a giant gorilla save the world, and it’s no big deal.
This is exclusively a movie for folks who want to kick back for a couple of hours and watch stuff get destroyed without having to bother following complex story lines or worrying about plot holes. It’s a classic big-budget action monster movie, and smart enough not to try to be more.