This Video Game Movie Runs Out of Quarters in the Third Act
Directed by Brad Peyton / 2018
Oh, be 13 years old again. I would’ve eaten this movie up! Rampage is a movie aimed straight at the heart of adolescent males of all ages. It’s a movie with giant monsters wreaking havoc in a city, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson running around with machine guns and grenade launchers, all sorts of kick-ass military hardware, a surprising amount of death and gore, giant gorillas flipping the bird, and Naomie Harris (Skyfall, Moonlight) in tight pants. It’s just a shame the movie completely drops the ball in the third act, giving us constant scenes of… uh, rampaging, I guess… that wear out their welcome long before the movie ends.
Rampage is based on the video game from 1986. In the game, you played one of the giant monsters and the goal was to smash hi-rise buildings before the military killed you. Rampage the movie recasts the monsters in the role as adversaries to our heroes, who are trying to prevent the wholesale destruction of Chicago with varying success. Johnson plays David Okoye, a primatologist working for the San Diego Zoo. Okoye doesn’t get along with people all that much, but he’s formed a special bond with George, a rare albino gorilla. One night, a strange container filled with a super-sciencey gas crashes into George’s enclosure and sprays him with its green, glowing contents. By the next morning, George has doubled in size and is showing signs of increased aggression.
There are other containers sprinkled across the United States as well. One sprays a wolf in the western US, while the other affects an alligator in the Everglades. Soon, all three gargantua are heading towards the city of Chicago, and the military is out to stop them at all costs. Okoye wants to help George, he knows the ape is under the influence of whatever it is that’s making him grow. Helping Okoye is Harris’s character, Dr. Kate Caldwell. She’s a geneticist that used to work for the corporation that created the glowing gas, but was fired when she tried to expose its evil ways.
Everytime the movie cuts away from either Johnson it comes to a screeching halt
Oh yes, naturally there is an evil corporation behind all of the giant monster shenanigans. This evil corporation is run by a pair of siblings played by Malin Akerman (Watchmen) and Jake Lacy (The Office, Miss Sloane). Whatever their ultimate goal was, I’m not clear on. This is mostly because everytime the movie cuts away from either Johnson it comes to a screeching halt. It doesn’t help that their plan seems insanely stupid. It’s their idea to summon the monsters to Chicago (while the two are still in Chicago!).
The third act grows tiresome in its repetitiveness. The monsters tear down buildings, the army shoots at them fruitlessly, Johnson tries to keep up with everything, and repeat. By the second time George leaps out of nowhere to save David’s life, it was clear the movie had run out of ideas. Even the effects work doesn’t look nearly as good. I was impressed with the animation and compositing when we first see George, but everything looked so much more fake in the final scenes (I mean, even more fake than a thirty-foot gorilla would look).
Rampage is a film that knows what it is, and where it comes from. References to past giant monster movies abound. George’s introduction, for instance, is lifted straight from the 1933’s King Kong. His presence is first announced through the crashing and swaying of trees. The design of the alligator (the original game called her Lizzie, but if she’s referred to by name in the movie, I missed it) owes a lot to Japanese Kaiju- especially Godzilla’s old foe Anguirus.
I don’t know if I’ve seen a movie starring Johnson that I’ve liked, but I’ve liked him in everything I’ve seen. He’s an incredibly open and engaging movie star. He’s the sort of icon that the phrase movie star was invented for in the first place. He might not be the greatest actor in the world, but he knows how to pick and develop projects that work best for his on screen persona. He has considerable chemistry with each of his Rampage costars, be they real, digital, or Jeffrey Dean Morgan. And it’s that quality which is lost when all the movie has to offer is Johnson running around by himself shooting at things.
The third act grows tiresome in its repetitiveness.
Brad Peyton previously directed Johnson in San Andreas (which was also written by Rampage’s co-writer Carlton Cruse). I haven’t seen that one, but the critical consensus seems to be that Johnson’s charisma saves what otherwise would be a pretty standard and silly disaster movie. That’s the same thing that’s happening in Rampage. When Johnson is interacting with another character, real or otherwise, the movie is engaging. As soon as he has to stop in order to run around amongst digitally created piles of rubble, interest wanes. The Rock is a great foundation upon which to build your action movie. You just had better make sure the rest of the film is strong enough to match.
As a sidenote, as I was preparing to watch this, I wondered how much of the film had been revealed by the trailer I kept seeing everywhere. Did the studio hold back any surprises for the audience? Unfortunately it probably comes as no surprise to learn that they did not. “Of course the wolf flies,” Johnson says in the trailer. And of course the marketers would be sure to reveal that moment many months out from the movie’s release.