Review: The Rampage movie is bombastic, stupid fun, and that’s great
I can vividly remember my reaction when I first learned that there was going to be a movie based off of Midway’s classic Rampage series, a movie which would star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson no less: an exacerbated sigh with an accompanying eye-roll. My head was quickly filled with a minutia of different ways that stiff-shirted Hollywood executives would manage to turn a lesser-known yet still beloved video game series into a silver screen train wreck (Admittedly, I probably thought about this more than I should have).
Let me tell you now, boy am I glad I was wrong. Rampage may not win any Oscars, but it is a fun, action-packed, and heartfelt monster movie romp which was made by people who clearly had no issues embracing the absurdity of the film’s premise.
Simple action fun
As with any good action movie, Rampage’s plot isn’t too complex, nor does it need to be. Johnson plays a former soldier turned primatologist named David Okoye who looks after his close friend George, an albino gorilla who is able to communicate with Okoye using sign language. Okoye and George’s peaceful existence is violently interrupted, however, when a mysterious canister crash-lands from space, spraying George with a substance that causes him to rapidly grow and become more aggressive.
It turns out that canister belongs to the sinister corporation Energyne which is run by the equally sinister sibling duo Clair and Brett Wyman (Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy). It also turns out the canister is one of three, and the other two canisters have spawned a massive wolf that can also fly and a gargantuan crocodile with a hide of spikes.
In order to help his friend George, Okoye teams up with a genetic scientist named Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), but in addition to the three rampaging beasts and the machinations of the Wyman siblings, they also have to deal with a third obstacle: a gritty government agent named Harvey Russell (Jeffery Dean Morgan) who fancies himself a modern-day cowboy (complete with cowboy boots, a large belt buckle, and a pearl-handled pistol).
On paper, it doesn’t sound like having the movie juggle so many elements at once would work, but it actually does. Each character has their own reasons for being invested in what happens to the three mutated beasts, and the film manages to keep up a decent cadence of action sequences and more dialogue-driven scenes with virtually no lulls in-between.
When the monsters inevitably start wreaking havoc, it’s always a pleasure to watch, whether they’re clashing with the U.S. military in a quarry, ambushing a squad of Energyne-hired mercenaries in the woods of Wyoming, or (as part of the film’s big finale) laying waste to the city of Chicago.
The CGI effects are top-notch, and that comes through not only in how the monsters look when they’re tearing through buildings but also in more subtle ways such as how when George’s facial reactions and body posture shift from aggression to understanding whenever he sees Okoye.
As for the human characters, you can immidiatly tell that Jeffrey Dean Morgan had a lot of fun playing the smug G-man with the southern drawl. All of the other characters fit into their respective archetypes and give passable performances, but Johnson’s Okoye really only shines when he’s interacting with George. You can sense that Okoye cares about George, which is a credit to Johnson’s acting skills since the audience knows that, in reality, George is just a collection of special effects.
Ackerman and Lacy also do a decent job playing the greedy, uncaring villains, and they’re given enough background to feel like real people without bogging the movie down with unnecessary exposition (if you look closely, you can also spot an old Rampage arcade cabinet in Clair’s office).
It feels like a cheap shot to ding Rampage for making Okoye feel just a little too much like an invincible action hero, but that’s really the only glaring problem I had with the movie. Okoye’s one fault is that he prefers to be around animals rather than people, a fault which actually has a good explanation since, along with being a former soldier, he was also once part of an anti-poaching task force and saw first-hand how cruel humans can be towards animals. Other than that, he’s virtually flawless.
He’s big and strong (it is The Rock we’re talking about after all), he’s kind and nurturing (as we see in his interactions with George), and, thanks to his military training, he can pilot helicopters, shoot grenade launchers, and easily best two trained marines in hand-to-hand combat. Again, it’s a silly thing to take issue with given the entire premise of the Rampage movie, and it’s actually good that Okoye’s near-perfect stature was the biggest problem I had.
As a sum of all its parts, Rampage is still an insanely fun popcorn action flick, especially if you’re the sort who can appreciate the subtle nods it makes to the Rampage game series (there’s one part where Jeffrey Dean Morgan giddily says that a bunch of internet weirdoes have named the wolf “Ralph”).
The film likely won’t inspire you to think more deeply about the societal issues it alludes to (the cruel practice of poaching, the dangers of mixing untested science with corporate greed, etc.), but that’s okay because it doesn’t try to. Rampage was made for an audience who can appreciate watching giant monsters level a city while The Rock cracks jokes and does the action hero thing, and in that regard it succeeds beautifully.