I bet most of you didn’t know that this movie is based on a video game, an old arcade game where you controlled monsters who destroyed a city and ate innocent civilians. This movie shares that same basic premise but otherwise deviates significantly.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as a primatologist, an expert on primates, and he’s working closely with an albino ape named George. A strange canister crashes into George’s enclosure and infects him with a virus that causes him to go feral and increase drastically in size and strength. Two other canisters infect a wolf in Wyoming and an alligator in Florida.
Now Johnson has to find a way to cure his friend and stop these animals from terrorizing the United States. He’s helped by Naomie Harris who stars as one of the geneticists who created this virus. Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Walking Dead, Watchmen) also appears as a mysterious government agent.
As antagonists, we have Malin Ackerman (also Watchmen) and Jake Lacy (The Office) who head up the genetic editing corporation and seem to have no regard for human life.
Rampage is exactly what you think it will be. The Rock is just as charming as ever, he leaps from exploding helicopters, and there are giant monsters. This is no surprise, as this is his third teamup with director Brad Peyton (also including San Andreas and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island). This movie is basically San Andreas but they just added monsters in post-production. And for many of you, that’s exactly what you want.
Let’s talk about the monsters. George, the albino ape that we spend the most time with, looks fantastic and elicits some very real emotions from the audience, as we start to care about him. The other two monsters don’t fare as well, getting less attention for their visuals (the wolf looks especially bad) and becoming more monstrous, like the Kaiju from Pacific Rim. This is “cool” but doesn’t really make sense when you keep seeing George whose only mutation is becoming slightly bigger. Still, George is a highlight for this movie.
What doesn’t work?
Like I said, the visuals are inconsistent. There’s some incredibly obvious green screens, some really bad monster effects, and the “city destruction” moments feel incredibly familiar (again, like some scenes from San Andreas were copied and pasted).
There’s also a problem with the human characters in this movie. There are surprisingly a lot of characters that we don’t need to care about and it’s painfully obvious. Throughout the movie we continually meet new characters but those characters spend very brief moments with us. Even late in the movie, we’re meeting new characters, while characters from the first part of the film disappear. It’s just a lot.
And some of these characters are very bad. Malin Ackerman and Jake Lacy star as two greedy corporate hacks who are trying to salvage what they can from this genetic experiment but somehow insist on trying to destroy the city of Chicago? I still don’t quite know why and they make some really stupid decisions (like staying in Chicago). Their performances are also ridiculous, amped up to 150% and they come off as cartoons, they’re so diabolically evil. Painful to watch at times.
We also have some humor issues here. A lot of the jokes fail. Many of them revolve around George the ape using sign language to say something nasty or sexual or crude. He gives the finger a lot. It seems like low-hanging fruit and barely caused a chuckle in our theater, aside from the kids that should not have been in this theater.
Here’s the biggest downside to this film: the pacing. It’s a long journey til we get any sort of action that resembles what the trailers have shown us. There’s a few little moments when the ape or the wolf attack something briefly, but it’s a slow burn. People see these movies for massive monsters and citywide destruction, yet this movie is bogged down with way too many tertiary characters and an over-complicated plot that delays the actual “rampage” that we’ve been waiting for.
Rampage is a mixed bag. The Rock is likeable as always and his buddy George is given a lot of attention as well. Everyone else fares less well, with a bloated cast of characters and too much time spent on an overly complicated plot. When the monsters do get to fight, it’s also mixed, with some bad visual effects and bland city destruction that we’ve become numb to. It’s a fun ride, if you really just want some action, but even then you may find your patience tested in the long road to get to the good stuff.