Dwayne Johnson and director Brad Peyton reunite for a third time for the goofy but likeable Rampage, a thriller featuring The Rock, massive creatures, and some pretty impressive CGI. It’s a surprisingly fun video-game inspired film, particularly if you’re fine with paying no attention to the actual story and are capable of just losing yourself in wild action scenes.
Johnson stars as primatologist Davis Okoye, a good-natured dude who much prefers the company of apes over humans. (Who can blame him?) He has a long-term bond with a rare albino gorilla named George who he rescued from poachers as a baby after they killed his mom. They share the same sense of humor, treat each other like family, and trust each other with their lives.
Life at the usually tranquil San Diego Wildlife Sanctuary is interrupted with the arrival of a capsule containing a secret bio-genetic experiment that alters DNA. George (a combo of Jason Liles in performance capture and CG effects) comes in contact with the substance and turns from a gentle, loving creature into a gigantic, raging beast. Not even Davis can control this newly enhanced version of George, and once he escapes the facility Davis’ efforts to calm down his friend are destroyed by the government and the military actively attempting to kill poor George.
Unfortunately, George isn’t the only mighty beastie on the loose and rampaging through forests and cities. A wolf and a crocodile also came in contact with the gene-altering substance and have transformed into enormous creatures with extraordinary abilities. The wolf can fly, and the crocodile is a 100 yards-long eating machine that moves incredibly fast and has bizarre new growths sprouting from his head, in addition to 1,118 bone-crunching teeth.
All three creatures wind up with the same goal: travel to downtown Chicago and destroy the source of a high-pitched squeal only genetically altered creatures can hear. The military can’t stop them, the company behind the bio-genetic experiment only wants to profit from this accidental DNA experiment, and the situation looks so dire that the powers-that-be want to drop a MOAB (mother of all bombs) in the heart of Chicago.
However, shady government agencies, well-equipped military teams, and the crooked company looking to weaponize DNA don’t know what they’re up against. Sure, the three creatures tearing down buildings, eating people, and swatting helicopters out of the air are impressive foes. But, what everyone should be worried about is a protective father figure with military training and the ability to charm the pants off anyone who stands in his way.
Joining Davis to pursue George and administer an antidote is geneticist Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris). Kate came up with the formula for the CRISPR gene-altering substance and has an axe to grind with the owners of Wyden Technologies, siblings Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman) and Brett Wyden (Jake Lacy).
Help comes in the unexpected form of Agent Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan in full-on Negan mode, but without the bat and less blood-thirsty). Russell works with some unnamed top-secret and powerful government agency, yet he’s willing to bend the rules once he observes Davis and Kate’s commitment to trying to rescue George.
Can Davis, Kate, and Russell save the rare albino gorilla or will the nefarious Wyden Technologies profit off the accidental release of the gene-altering substance? Come on, people… It’s The Rock we’re talking about here.
Rampage is the very definition of a summer popcorn movie. Never mind the plot is ludicrous with its shifting rules and lack of a clear reason for the creatures to meet on top of a building in Chicago. (Claire Wyden lures them there with noise but then doesn’t really have a plan for what to do when they arrive, other than flee.) And never mind that while two of the three creatures morph into hybrids containing visible parts of the creatures used to make the DNA altering substance, George just looks like himself only much, much bigger. Also, let’s just forget about trying to wrap our heads around how Davis and Kate manage to make it through all the destruction while bombers and tanks are smashed like kids’ toys. Instead, just let Rampage flow past your eyes in all its CG glory without expending much energy in trying to follow the plot. Don’t go down that rabbit hole…it’s not worth it in the long run.
Video game-inspired films have a disastrous batting average, although critics are usually harsher on these sorts of films than audiences. If the description contains the words “video game-inspired,” you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into by purchasing a ticket. Video game adaptations populate year-end Worst Of lists and frequently wind up earning Razzie nominations. I’m not saying Rampage won’t end up being on those lists, but it’s not a trashy cash grab like other video game-inspired films. It’s a whole lot of fun to check out on screen, and the source material is irrelevant in judging this creature feature. (Director Payton says that while they pay homage to the video game, all it really provided was the very basic premise.)
We all need a little mindless entertainment every now and then, and Rampage certainly fits the bill. Johnson, Harris, Morgan, and the rest of the cast appear to be having a good time on Rampage, and their commitment to this bizarre world of towering, building-hopping beasts is contagious. They seem to be telling us to have fun, not sweat the small stuff, and enjoy your popcorn. Sometimes that simple message is all we need from a film.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief language, and crude gestures
Running Time: One hour 47 minutes
Release Date: April 13, 2018