At what point is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson no longer portraying characters at all, and just fully playing variations of himself? We may have reached this critical The Rock breaking point with Rampage, a video game adaptation nobody asked for, but which somehow mostly works as a big, fun, and really dumb action movie.
Johnson plays Davis Okoye, a primatologist and former soldier who's more comfortable around animals than humans. But he's still mostly The Rock, a fact that Dr. Doolittle levels of communication between him and his best gorilla friend George, the only thing unique to this latest iteration of the wrestler-turned-actor's persona, can't hope to disguise. There may be nothing that could, which becomes more apparent with every new Dwayne Johnson vehicle, from last year's better-than-it-should-have-been Jumanji to, probably, the upcoming Skyscraper, out in July. Johnson is like the anti-Gary Oldman, who famously disappears into his every role. The Rock can't be anything but The Rock.
But that's OK! People like seeing The Rock flex his giant arms and mutter inoffensive one-liners. I like it. And that's exactly what we get in Rampage--oh, and a trio of awesome, giant monsters who can't be stopped by tanks and fighter jets and RPGs. Only The Rock is powerful and sensitive enough to stop these beasts. Hell yes.
Okoye's monkey friend George starts to grow in size, appetite, and aggression after he breathes in a green gas that falls from a research station in space. That sure sounds like a plot from an '80s arcade game, but the movie actually puts a lot of work into making sense. Not that it succeeds, but a tacked-on opening scene in which an astronaut researcher clamors to get her samples into an escape pod as a giant rat chases her through an exploding zero-G space station contextualizes the insanity.
"There's a reason we were doing those experiments in space," Jake Lacy's hapless villain Brett Wyden later laments to his sister, the more capable, but still somewhat hapless, villain Claire Wyden (played by Malin Akerman). Well, sure, there probably was. Who knows or cares what it is though?
Rampage focuses mostly on The Rock and his monkey, who Okoye continues to vouch for even as he grows totally unmanageable. In the B-plot, a team of boilerplate mercenaries led by True Blood's Joe Manganiello don't last long against a giant wolf (the "pathogen" broke up and landed at three different points across the US). Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays a government agent known as Harvey Russell who, as a character, is entirely indistinguishable from his The Walking Dead villain Negan. Being alpha males, he and Okoye butt heads but eventually form a grudging respect for one another, because that's how that works in movies.
These characters are the core of Rampage's incredible stupidity. Not one of them acts like a real person with believable motivations or relatable thought processes. The Wydens smirk over their ingenious plan to set off a radio signal that will draw the ever-growing creatures right to their skyscraper headquarters in the middle of Chicago, then sit smugly in their 80th floor office for the rest of the movie like they're just dying to be eaten alive. When Okoye and Naomie Harris's Dr. Kate Caldwell figure out what the Wydens have done, they assume there must be an antidote and decide to hijack a military helicopter, fly to Chicago, and steal it, because they're apparently the only ones capable of doing so.
But Rampage is a fun ride in spite of its stupidity. The monsters look pretty good, especially the transformed crocodile, who isn't fully revealed until late in the movie. Dr. Caldwell explains early on that her research sought to combine DNA from many different animals with growth hormones from sharks, so naturally, the 30-foot wolf has webbed wings like a flying squirrel and spines like a hedgehog, and it can shoot the spines out of its tail like giant spears. The CG is a little inconsistent, but it never gets bad enough to distract from explosive set pieces like George going berserk in the belly of a plane mid-flight or all three beasts ("The Wrecking Crew," as they're nicknamed in the games) climbing that skyscraper together in the climax, a la the Rampage games.
Speaking of the games, Rampage the movie tries halfheartedly to wink and nudge in their direction, with mixed results. Morgan's character notes dryly that "weirdos on the internet" have named the wolf Ralph, but the name "Lizzie" is never uttered in connection with the croc, as far as I noticed. In one early scene, a Rampage arcade machine appears out of focus in the background; if the game exists in this world, isn't it an incredibly weird coincidence that a giant monkey, reptile, and wolf team up in the "real world" and destroy a city? It's never noted again, and it doesn't matter.
Rampage does get points for some of its humor, especially in the interactions between Okoye and George, who routinely flips The Rock his middle finger and plays practical jokes on him (prior to his infection, at least). Unsurprisingly, their relationship stretches plausibility when it comes to just how smart gorillas really are. Like everything else in Rampage, it's heightened for dramatic, explosive, or comedic effect.
This movie is dumb as hell, but it's also pretty dang entertaining. It is, after all, an adaptation of the Rampage video games. If you've ever played one, what more could you have expected from this?
|The Good||The Bad|
|Fun, big action||Insanely dumb writing and characters|
|The Rock being The Rock||Halfhearted references to the games|
|The Wrecking Crew looks good|