Objectively, beyond a shadow of a doubt, “Rampage” is a bad film. However, this does not mean it isn’t an enjoyable film – during some moments, at least.
“Rampage” comes to us from “Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore” director Brady Peyton, who teams up with one Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for the third time (“San Andreas”, “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”). The movie is loosely based on the 1980s arcade game in which players took control of giant creatures George the Gorilla, Lizzie the Lizard and Ralph the Wolf while destroying cities and the military. The movie takes that premise and tries to inject a story into it, with predictably little success.
Johnson plays a primatologist who works at a zoo in San Diego, which is already a stretch. There, he cares for an albino gorilla named George. One day, chemicals crash down from outer space and George is contaminated, becoming a King Kong-esque beast with unadulterated rage. Of course, it also infects a wolf (who t is still named Ralph, as in the game) and an alligator. The chemicals belonged to an evil company that is worried about stock prices or something, so they want to lure the beasts to their headquarters in the Sears Tower to stop their growth and sell the creatures. Johnson, of course, is not about to let that happen.
Coming into this movie expecting any sort of strong story would be a huge mistake, and most people probably realize that. It’s just a shame that the movie does not seem to. Instead, it decides to use most of its first two acts as a set up for the real cheese of the film, the creatures fighting. It also shifts between attempting to make fun of how stupid it is (usually unsuccessfully) and trying to be serious (which is hindered by the fact that there is a fifty foot albino gorilla that completely understands English). In some action flicks the poor plot can be redeemed with fun characters, but outside of Johnson’s role, this film is, unfortunately, a graveyard. We spend a lot of time with several different inconsequential characters who end up not mattering at all; they hardly get their names out before leaving the film forever.
The only mainstays are the characters played by Naomie Harris and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Harris is a great actor, but her character is given no reason to exist in the movie and is thus completely forgettable. Morgan’s character’s purpose is extremely vague, though if you like Morgan’s performance as Negan in the Walking Dead, you may have fun with him here. Meanwhile, the siblings that own the corporation are also just plain annoying in everything they do. Whether it’s throwing around business buzzwords with no context or talking about pet rats for no reason, they unfortunately become a pain to watch whenever they’re on screen. Thankfully that is not too long because once the action starts they happily get tossed aside for more interesting characters, like George.
When Johnson is on screen (which is unfortunately not often enough) he is still his same charismatic self. At this point, you are either a fan of him or you aren’t. There are plenty of great moments that call attention to his overwhelming size, strength and great looks. Despite the scientific trappings, he is playing much the same character that he plays in most of his other films. It works as much as it has before, which may mean different things for different folks. What is genuinely surprising is Johnson’s ability to make his character’s relationship with George the strongest one in the film. He creates an emotional attachment between the audience and the ape, making the final act of the film even stronger.
If Johnson is enough to get you to the final act, then you will be showered with 20 minutes of the creature destruction you came to see. This is Ralph’s second lengthy scene in the film, and the only time we get to see Lizzie. The special effects are not great, but they are good enough that watching the three giant mutated animals destroy the Loop is a truly brainless joy to watch. And once they start fighting each other, it gets even better. Perhaps most importantly, both corporate villains get justly horrible endings.
Coming off 2017’s excellent adventure comedy “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” it is hard for this not to feel like a disappointment from Johnson. It’s more a reminder that “Jumanji” was the exception, not the rule. It is easy to tell what to expect from “Rampage” from the trailers, and if you enjoyed those then you’ll probably enjoy the movie. As poor as the opening acts are, Johnson will be enough to get most viewers to the enjoyable climax. It’s a return to the big-budget excesses of Johnson’s 2016 action-comedy “Central Intelligence” and 2014’s action fantasy “Hercules” – the type of film that isn’t too memorable, but viewers can take comfort in the fact that there are far worse ways to spend an hour and 47 minutes.