Movie Review: Rampage
I went into Rampage looking for big dumb fun. I was not disappointed. While it is nothing groundbreaking, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and his giant CGI ape add charm to the “stuff blowing up” formula.
I didn’t have a ton of expectations walking into Rampage, a silly 2018 movie based on a silly 1986 arcade game. Thankfully, this movie cleared whatever low bars I had set for it easily. This movie won’t reinvent either the Kaiju or natural disaster movie wheels, but Rampage polishes them up and lets them roll smoothly. Over every building in Chicago.
Davis Okoye (The Rock) is a primatologist at a wildlife preserve. His best buddy George is an Albino Gorilla he rescued from poachers. When debris from the wreck of a space station that was doing shady genetic engineering lands in the preserve, George is infected with the Rampage virus. A weapon created by the Energyne corporation, it makes the infected animal bigger, stronger, and much, much more aggressive. When Energyne begins calling it’s creation home to Chicago, Davis must find a way to save his friend before he destroys the city.
At Least Some of the Chemistry Isn’t B.S.
While I had fun watching this movie, I dread to think what this movie is going to do to my Facebook feed. Rampage plays fast and loose with science, and specifically demonizes the genomic editing tool CRISPR. I didn’t really mind: this movie employs Geo-Storm or Jurassic World levels of pseudoscience to set up it’s disaster premise. That’s nothing new. If you’re willing to take it’s flimsy pretense at face value, the movie never punishes you for it. Once it gets your “yeah… ok… I guess” out of the way, it moves briskly, keeps things fun and superficial, and never begs you to look behind the curtain.
The chemistry I really wanted to talk about was between The Rock… and a CGI Gorilla. Rampage sets up early the camaraderie between Davis and George, and it was the unexpected highlight of the film. They are both big, goofy, Alpha males, and they talk back and forth (using sign language) with familiarity and affection. George loves taking the piss out of Davis, and it adds just enough comedy to elevate this movie from a film like San Andreas, where The Rock had to carry the charisma load alone.
Lights, Camera, Destruction
George and Davis aren’t alone for this ride though. Rampage infects two other hosts, a wolf and a crocodile. The wolf provides some horror movie moments, as it tears it’s way through mercenaries and the army. It allowed the film to play with the visuals to keep things fresh. The mercs (including Pee Wee’s best friend Joe Manganiello) are using helmet cams; the army engagements come from aerial and night vision cameras. Rampage likes to flit in different cameras just long enough to change the pace, and it was a nice little diversion from the typical Transformers-eye view of destruction.
The CGI is pretty well done. The monsters interact with buildings and vehicles in aesthetically appealing ways, and the only time I noticed an uncanny valley is when Davis put his hand in his now King Kong-sized friend’s hand. George is expressive, the wolf moved in novel ways, and the crocodile is just crazy bananas Kaiju level spikes and horns and tusks.
All These Jaws Keep Things Snappy
The final aspect the keeps Rampage fun is that it rarely lets things drag. It’s got a bunch of monsters to move to one final set-piece, and it wants to do it as efficiently and effectively as possible. Other than a brief segment on a plane where Davis gets to know the other protagonist Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), it doesn’t bog down, and as soon as you know enough, they blow up that plane and keep right on moving.
The film also mostly nails it’s tone. It’s not campy, except for the Energyne CEO villains and Richard Dean Morgan’s G-man, who overact. The snappy pace largely covers up their over-acting. It’s also not overly serious: the film accepts the silly premise and then moves forward respecting that giant monsters is the logical consistency of this world. Rampage is a bloody movie, so be warned that this isn’t one of those disaster flicks where magically nobody dies. That being said, it threads the needle between 300 level gore-worship and “kids playing with toys” Transformers fantasy.
Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire
For the type of film Rampage is, it feels balanced and well-paced. Once again, nothing here is truly novel, but it is a well executed version of blockbusters you’ve seen before. It doesn’t bog down like recent attempts at Godzilla, it doesn’t feel like a mountain-dew soaked kids fantasy, and the leads are both charismatic… and swole as hell.
The one immersion breaker I had watching Rampage was how it seemed that The Rock was getting beefier and beefier as the film went on. I joked to myself that Davis must have accidentally gotten some residual Rampage on him (he does handle the canister that infects George), and by the end of the film a 50 meter Rock was gonna give those monsters a massive people’s elbow. I hope unseasoned chicken, steamed broccoli, and white rice do the same wonders for me in my forties.
After watching some less than exciting fare this week, I might be grading Rampage on a curve. But if you want big dumb fun with two very big leads, Rampage is a fun summer flick. If you buy into the basic premise, the movie won’t make you look like a monkey.