Review: More Rampage Needed in ‘Rampage’

(c) New Line Pictures

In the 1986 arcade game, Rampage, players control three gigantic monsters trying to survive the attack of military forces as they destroy high-rise cities, one by one:  George, a gorilla transformed by an experimental vitamin; Lizzie, a lizard transformed by a radioactive lake; and Ralph, a wolf transformed by a food additive.  It’s sweet, simple and has a lot of giant monster action.  The new movie, Rampage, is at its best when depicting the chaos of the game.  However, it suffers when attempting to shift the focus and create a story around its live action stars.

In fact, the movie takes too many of its 107 minutes getting to Chicago where the chaos takes place. You can’t blame it for trying to flesh out a story, and the concept at first seems pretty good.  The Engyne corporation has continued to develop a formula for genetic “editing” long after the government deemed it unsafe.  When an accident aboard an orbiting space station sends three containers of the formula crashing through our atmosphere, three animals become exposed to it: an intelligent gorilla in San Diego, a wolf in Arizona and an alligator in Florida.

(c) Bally Midway

The gorilla, George, grows and becomes aggressive. The wolf and alligator grow proportionately larger than George, though, and mutate into true monsters with some uniquely deadly and terrifying characteristics.  They convene in Chicago where the villains from Engyne, brother and sister Brett and Claire Wyden (Jake Lacy and Malin Akerman) have turned on a signal to draw them there.  I don’t know why they’ve done this.  It’s not that they have a plan to use the top secret antidote on them.  It’s like they just want to destroy their building, and the city with it, for no reason.

That leaves our hero, Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) to navigate the destruction and military assault in order to obtain the antidote. He’s the primatologist that rescued George from poachers and trained him to communicate, sometimes with inappropriate hand gestures.  If you get a chuckle out of monkeys flipping the finger, that’s the pool of humor in which Rampage swims.  George is a modern day Clyde from Every Which Way But Loose.  It’s not that I’m a snob, but you can’t convince me that this isn’t an incredibly lazy way of inserting some comic relief into the movie.

Along the way, Davis encounters Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), a former Engyne employee who knows about the existence of the antidote, and Agent Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) from the OGA (Other Government Agency), who first arrests Davis and Kate, before seeing the light and helping them. Didn’t we used to think Morgan was a good actor?  I loved him in Grey’s Anatomy and Supernatural, but his role as Negan on The Walking Dead single-handedly caused me to stop watching, and his scenery-chewing character here gave me a similar desire.

(c) New Line Cinema

The CGI effects are quite spectacular, so good that I had to question whether George was 100% CGI or if there was any Planet of the Apes-like motion capture technology used in his creation.  Johnson interacts pretty well with him and the other two monsters in front of the green screen.  I haven’t seen many of his movies, but I was under the impression he usually had more fun than it looks like he’s having here.  He spends more time emoting concern over what’s happened to his hairy friend.  He, and the movie, need more genuine humor, not cheap laughs.

No matter what I say, Rampage probably delivers on the two things it’s meant to: Dwayne Johnson and giant monsters.  I feel guilty wanting more.  I have to wonder if it will suffer the same fate for me as the last Dwayne Johnson movie I saw, San Andreas (2015).  That is to say, three years from now, will I have to look at IMDb to see if I rated it because I remember nothing about seeing it?  I feel like a hypocrite saying this, but Rampage is a giant monster movie where I actually wanted more giant monsters and less story to go with them.

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