The Rampage videogame never concerned itself much with plot, a story, or characters. Instead, you controlled a giant monster, and had to pull down buildings, occasionally eat people, and punch the odd helicopter. The Rampage movie therefore has something of a clean slate. With no story to work off, screenwriters Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J Condal and Adam Sztykiel could craft something of their own choosing, as long as it built up to big monsters bashing, and big buildings falling.
Yeah. You can see where this is going.
Dwayne Johnson, then, this time plays a man called Davis, although you don’t need to worry about that. Just know that this is a movie star role where he could be called Basil, Fred, Griselde or Bonzo for all it matters.
He basically stands, vaguely sweating, in a costume that’s not far off the one he wore in Jumanji. Here, though, he’s a recluse, a person who doesn’t like talking to people, just one who seems to like talking to people. He’s also an expert in talking to animals, a primatologist, using the few bits of sign language he appears to know to convey an astounding number of phrases to said creatures. He uses these to chat with a gorilla called George. They have a bond. But George is one of a clutch of creatures affected by a brief, zapped in from another movie prologue in space, that sees stuff landing on Earth that makes selected creatures grow.
Alongside Johnson are Comedy Bastard Corporate Man In Suit (Jake Lacy), Icy Woman Who Will Stop At Nothing And Is A Bastard (Malin Akerman), Maverick Law Enforcer Who Looks Like That Bastard In The Walking Dead (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Private Military Firm Hardass Bastard (Joe Manganiello) and Concerned Woman Who Is Film’s Moral Compass And Not A Bastard (Naomie Harris). Again, all of these characters have names in the film, but again, it doesn’t matter.
Rampage, then, is a fundamentally very dim film. It’s worth being clear about that. At one stage, some serious science stuff has to be explained, and a character loads up a Wikipedia clone on their smartphone and just scrolls through it. It’s one of those films where corporate bastards watch graphs fall on monitors and then make insane decisions half-cobbled together from a bit of the plot of Aliens. Dialogue often consists of Johnson barking out some variant of ‘we need to figure this out’. A temporary distraction from more visual effects being triggered.
I should be clear, too: I like fundamentally dim films. I don’t need every film I watch to come with a Mensa application form. And Rampage, I have to tell you, does not.
But what it also fails to pack in is sufficient fun. There’s a moment as you head towards the end of the movie that feels like the entire movie pitch. It’s a recreation of a scene, effectively, from the original 80s videogame, as monsters crawl up and smash buildings, whilst helicopters fire at them, people on the ground scatter, and random people get eaten. It’s basically like watching a videogame, and I found myself very conscious of this, but also thinking it might just be visually more interesting if they dug out the ZX Spectrum version. At least it’d have an identity of sorts then.
It’s not that Rampage is bad per se, it’s just got nothing to add. Already this summer, we’ve had Pacific Rim: Uprising give us big CG creations smashing cities up, and just weeks later, it feels the same formula again.
The big disappointment is that Johnson, collaborating with his San Andreas director Brad Peyton for the third time, can’t really make it sing. His one-liners aren’t great, and whilst he has undoubtable presence, there’s not much interesting for him to do here. Go back to San Andreas: that wasn’t the most intelligent movie on Planet Earth, but lord, it knew how to entertain, and to use its leading man. Rampage, unwisely, assumes we’re more interested in the creatures, and the film suffers a lot as a consequence.
There are sparks. There’s a moment where someone spits out the killer line, “when science shits the bed, I’m the guy they call to change the sheets”, and I’d like to think the screenwriters high-fived each other when they came up with that, and took the rest of the day off. But you end up treasuring moments like that, so sparse are they.
I struggle to call Rampage a missed opportunity, as I’m not convinced there was too much in the source material to inspire a three act story. The disappointment remains that all concerned didn’t just have a lot more fun with it. Skyscraper, as a consequence, looks like the Dwayne Johnson blockbuster to zero in on this year.
Rampage is in UK cinemas now.