2 stars (out of 4)
No animals were harmed during the making of Rampage. Humans who sit through the flick, however, may suffer from destruction-porn fatigue, bouts of confusion and frustration, and a mild case of the giggles. Please proceed accordingly.
Rampage does not take itself seriously. Hi, the official plot description starts off, “Dwayne Johnson plays primatologist Davis Okoye …” It respects itself to give us a flimsy screenplay and a goose egg in terms of character development or global-political context. This movie relies heavily on grandiose visual spectacle — including the radiant smile of its lead actor — which is both fair and square. The very best B-movies do the same, especially monster mashes. That ought to be the case here. But Rampage, based on a popular video game, lacks the snap and panache to pull off the camp. With only a measure of guilty pleasure, it’s as disposable as an old ticket stub from the zoo.
That’s where we start. Johnson’s Davis has a unique bond with George, a gentle albino silverback gorilla he rescued from poachers and has been in his care for years. Using sign language, the two communicate and tease each other like a couple of bros. Note that Davis is an mistrustful introvert who prefers animals to humans. This is mentioned about six times in the first 20 minutes and not once believably.
George goes on the rampage after a secret biogenetic experiment in space goes awry and test samples fall to San Diego. (Feel free to read that sentence a few more times.) George gets a hold of the substance, which causes animals to grow exponentially in strength, speed, agility and aggression, and absorbs the DNA. Overnight, he turns from an average-sized ape to a roaring Kong. A ferocious wolf is on the loose too. Davis makes it his mission to keep George safe and help find a cure. To do this, he’s going to have to start trusting humans — including a brilliant and beautiful geneticist (Naomie Harris) who helped engineer the gene-editing mutations.
Away we go. Rampage tumbles from one sequence to the next with only middling results. The set piece in which Johnson safely throws Harris from an exploding, rapidly descending airplane dazzles in its absurdity; the one in which he pilots a chopper through the chaos does nothing. The expensive set pieces settle into a monotony: bad guys try to kill George and fail. The animals get bigger. Good guys try to kill the wolf and fail. The animals get bigger. The action leads to downtown Chicago, where the animals are lured to a low-frequency radio wave set up as an antidote. (Feel free to read that sentence a few more times too). Buildings fall, thousands of innocent people die in the wreckage. But hey, check out those special effects!
I admit that Rampage is a neat excuse to supersize. Animals. A crumbling Midwest city. Johnson’s muscles. Even the actors play to the rafters, with a special nod to Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s deliciously wily Black Ops character. Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy also eat the screen as sinister siblings who financed the weaponized DNA. You won’t buy what they’re selling, but the performances are winking all the way. There’s an argument to be made that the movie works (and will surely delight 10-year-old boys) because it’s ridiculously nonsensical and trashy.
So why does it play like yesterday’s trash? Despite a gargantuan budget, you’ll still see a monster amassing size from the bottom of the water (Godzilla), a scary simian beating its chest from a tall building (every King Kong movie) and an intelligent ape that has a special relationship with a human, only to rebel in nature (Rise of the Planet of the Apes). George even effortlessly swallows a human whole a la the dinosaur in Jurassic World. The only noticeable difference here is that George likes to give Johnson the middle finger.
Whether you see Rampage to relish a silly extravaganza or skip it to save brain cells and money, you’re making the right choice. Either way, you’ll forget about it by the time Johnson’s next flick comes along. Maybe he knows it as well. Late in the movie, Davis, piloting a helicopter, sees a ginormous crocodile emerge from the Chicago River. His nonchalant reply: “Well, that sucks.” I wonder if he truly wanted to scream out, “I’ve had it with these mother—king animals terrorizing these motherf—king people!”
Rampage opens in theaters on Friday, April 13.