Rampage was the name of a series of arcade and home video games created by Midway (later purchased by Warner Bros.) in which humans transformed into giant monsters and try to wreak havoc upon major cities while avoiding the military and other authorities. The premise of the game was simplicity itself, so it was perhaps inevitable that a Hollywood studio would attempt to bring such a blunt-force concept to the screen.
And so now we have Rampage the movie, a would-be summer tentpole starring the man who is becoming the king of big dumb movies, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Following last year’s shock holiday hit, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, The Rock finds himself in another video game-related project (albeit this one based on an actual real-life game) and delivers the same basic goods: lots of running, jumping and visual effects, but even less in the way of anything substantial Which is saying something, because entertainment like this wears its mindlessness on its sleeve.
Johnson stars as primatologist Davis Okoye, who heads an anti-poaching unit for a Southern California wildlife preserve (standing in for the San Diego Zoo) and whose best friend is a silverback gorilla named George (like the one in the game). Davis, you see, doesn’t relate to people all that well for reasons never really made clear, but that’s about the level of character development you get in the picture.
Meanwhile, a space station belonging to an evil corporation called Energyne explodes, and a deadly serum kept aboard–a new formula used for genetic editing–hurtles to Earth in three places, including the zoo where George gets infected with it. In the other two spots, a crocodile and a wolf get dosed, and all three animals begin to grow rapidly in size and exhibit massively aggressive behavior. Engyne’s malevolent CEO Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman) and her nitwit brother Brett (Jake Lacy) begin transmitting a signal from atop their Chicago headquarters to draw the monsters to them while Davis teams with a former Energyne employee (Naomie Harris) and a federal agent (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to stop the creatures and hopefully save George before they–wait for it–rampage through Chicago.
As a fan of the old Japanese kaiju movies, I felt my heart beat a little faster during some of the scenes in which the three monsters battle each other and a variety of skyscrapers in the heart of the Windy City; director Brad Peyton (who last teamed with Johnson to smash up the West Coast in San Andreas) channels some of the nostalgia for those movies in the way he choreographs and composes a couple of these sequences, which is really what everyone is paying to see and which won’t disappoint if you’re looking for mass monster destruction, even if some of the CG proves to be unfortunately sketchy.
But it’s just too bad that everything around them is taken from what must be a scriptwriting program labeled “Generic Action/Sci-Fi Blockbuster.” Reluctant hero with shadowy past? Check. Plucky heroine who figures it all out for reluctant hero? Got it. Sinister corporation with hellbent CEO? In there. Enigmatic government agent who may or may not have a hidden agenda? Coming right up. Plot twists and turns that seem important but ultimately don’t make much sense or impact? Yep, all accounted for.
Those moments of exciting monster action (which grow wearisome themselves by the end) can’t stop everything else from being the same tedious leftovers. The Rock does his thing, no better or worse than any of his other performances, and the movie relies on his blazing charisma to carry most of the weight when the beasts aren’t razing whole streets. Harris is given almost nothing to do but spout exposition while Akerman vamps and camps like she’s in another movie. But Morgan, who I like, is baffling here; he doesn’t seem to realize that he’s not on the set of The Walking Dead and uses almost the same physical and vocal mannerisms as Agent Whosis that he does as super-baddie Negan on that series.
I suppose it’s easy to confuse one apocalyptic scenario with another these days, so maybe we’ll cut the actor some slack. But I can’t do the same for the studio execs who greenlit this monstrosity. The Rock survives a plane crash, a helicopter crash (under a collapsing building!), and even getting shot, but still manages to walk away on his own two feet while exchanging dirty remarks with a gorilla about a woman standing right next to them. That’s the level of intelligence on display throughout most of Rampage, and as much as I wanted to like those monster battles, I wanted the movie to end even more.
Rampage is out in theaters on Friday, April 13.