Rampage: Mindless But Not Entertaining
There’s nothing more sobering for a movie fan than to see a film that truly engrosses and challenges you and then to follow it up with something like Rampage. I saw Indian Horse the other night, and last week a great line-up of A Quiet Place, Journey’s End, The Death of Stalin, and even Best F(r)iends. Rampage, directed by Brad Peyton and loosely based on the Rampage video game series, is a solid reminder of the soullessness in a lot of mainstream releases. I’m not even mad, I’ve just been spoiled lately.
The debris from a failed genetic experiment in space lands on Earth and infects multiple animals, causing them to rapidly grow, experience heightened aggression, and in some cases mutate. One of these is an albino gorilla called George, in the care of primatologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson). When the government comes for George, Davis with the help of a scientist (Naomie Harris) who worked for the corrupt genetics company behind these experiments, attempts to find a way to cure George and prevent the destruction he and the other creatures could cause.
Clearly this is a very goofy premise, and to the movie’s credit it’s aware of this. All it’s concerned with is being monster-oriented destruction porn. But that’s not very entertaining, especially when it takes a long and incredibly formulaic story to get there. There is not one surprise in this movie. The script, somehow written by four people, is lousy. The light-hearted dialogue is very forced and the characterization really bland. How many villainous duos have we seen that have been siblings where the sister is the powerfully cunning boss and the brother the wormy and pathetic underling?
The worst part of the writing is how poor the exposition is. Whole backstories, personal and societal histories, are all brought up bizarrely and in convenient time to advance the plot. It instantaneously takes you out of the movie every time. We’re also constantly told that Davis doesn’t like people, that he’s antisocial and prefers animals, but we never see it. It’s the most noticeable example of this movie’s preference of telling rather than showing. And the fact that Johnson is naturally charismatic and the movie plays to that in his interactions with other characters, it’s increasingly unbelievable that he apparently has these hang-ups.
Johnson does keep the movie watchable, but this characterization flaw keeps you from seeing anything more than just Dwayne Johnson himself. Compared to his last movie, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, where he was certainly playing a very different character, he was much more engaging and entertaining. In Rampage he doesn’t give you much of a personality to invest in. Johnson’s certainly not bad, nor is he phoning in a performance, he’s just weakened by a poor production and writing. Harris on the other hand is playing way beneath her talents. Her scientist is a nothing character with a random tragedy in her past that in no way factors into the story. She’s also tasked with delivering a lot of the scientific explanations, and the science in this movie is dubious at best. It wouldn’t usually matter, but this movie draws attention to its science and it just doesn’t hold water. As the over-the-top corporate villains Malin Åckerman is really cheesy and Jake Lacy downright annoying; Joe Manganiello is in this movie but is completely wasted, and I wish P.J. Byrne had a bigger role. The only likeable character is Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Agent Russell. He’s a bit gimmicky, but Morgan brings such a charming roguishness to the part that you wish he was the protagonist.
The relationship between Davis and George is okay, though it’s never very endearing. You can tell it wants to be Mighty Joe Young but the chemistry just isn’t there. And a part of that does come from the CGI element. George and the other giant animals aren’t really there and while the effects aren’t terrible, a disconnect is still felt. The few bonding scenes we see between George and Davis are usually either preceded or followed by a joke, which lessens their meaning. George has a very specific sense of humour and Davis has taught him elaborate sign language, including a few very questionable gestures for some reason. The effects overall are of course ridiculous and unoriginal, not helped by the fact that in the destructive Chicago climax Davis is extraordinarily active for someone with multiple wounds.
Rampage reminds me more than a little bit of last years’ Geostorm, in that it’s a movie that would have fit in perfectly in the late 90’s, but now feels kind of dated. It’s not as terrible as that movie though; it’s just a run-of-the-mill bad Hollywood blockbuster that doesn’t deserve your attention as much as some of the other movies still available to see.