RAMPAGE Is Surprisingly Bloody and Short on Fun

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RAMPAGE

No one goes into RAMPAGE expecting a film that will make one rethink their place in the world. No one would anticipate a movie rich with philosophical perspective. Sure, it may wave at questions about man’s relationship to the Earth and how far we should push science, but it knows—and we know—why we are really there. To see three gigantic beasts fight the military, each other, and buildings while Dwayne Johnson cracks wise.

In other words, all RAMPAGE needs to do is be fun? So…is it?

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The Idea Behind RAMPAGE

If one is familiar with the mid-80’s cabinet arcade game, you already have the broad strokes. A giant gorilla—but not King Kong!— lizard—but not Godzilla—and werewolf descend on a city. They proceed to wreck shop.

However, unlike the game, you are not on the side of the monsters. RAMPAGE instead puts forward Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) as its hero. A military man turned primatologist, Okoye has a deep connection to animals in general. More specifically, he has an almost brotherly relationship with George, a rare albino gorilla living in the San Diego Zoo. When a shady corporation’s experiment in space goes awry, the explosion sends three samples of the experiment tumbling to earth. George, a real wolf, and a crocodile encounter the aerosol and begin to change. As it turns out, the green gas recodes DNA on the fly, making animals stronger, faster, and more resilient. Unfortunately, it also seems to Hulk them up a bit, turning them less intelligent and more aggressive.

The corporation, embodied by Claire and Brett Wyden (Malin Ackerman and Jake Lacy), is aware of what is happening but has no intention of helping. Instead, they lure the beasts to Chicago to harvest their DNA and destroy them. If it goes as planned, the Wydens will be blameless and have the next step in their research done.

Things do not go as planned.

RAMPAGE: Surviving a plane crash
Dwayne Johnson and Naomi Harris exist amongst the wreckage in RAMPAGE. (Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures)

The Writing

Written by a quartet—Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, and Adam Sztykiel—the script initially feels very much like a Johnson project script. It lets the star be smart, charismatic, funny, and lusted after—just a touch. Like nearly every Johnson action movie, it is clear people find him attractive but he himself remains oddly sexless. While it is nice to not have an awkward kiss between near strangers shoved in, the absence is notable. Not to be crude, but when will Hollywood let Dwayne get some?

As the plot kicks in, however, much of the humor largely disappears from the movie. The script becomes more set piece followed by check-in followed by plan update followed by set piece. It is not noticeable in the moment. However, as the humor returns in full post-climax, you are cannot help but retroactively mourn its long absence. The movie is much lighter and energetic before the explosions start.

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Casting The Leads

Dwayne Johnson is, well, Dwayne Johnson. He has charisma to spare. Of course, he can handle the action with aplomb. He sells laugh lines with ease, including ones that would be groaners in nearly anyone else’s mouth.

As Agent Harvey Russell, Jeffrey Dean Morgan is clearly having a blast. Even as more and more of Chicago goes tumbling down, he remains jauntily detached. He smirks, he drolls, he mocks, and he does it all like giant monster animals are no big deal. It takes a man of considerable skills to steal scenes from Johnson, but darn it, Morgan does it.

Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) has the most thankless of the lead roles. She is an exposition purveyor who exists to fill in the history of the experiment until now. She runs, jumps, and fights well, but she does not get to do it much. In another movie, she’d be the romantic lead too, but, as noted, not in a Johnson movie. Save for a crude joke from the ape, there is zero presence of sparks between her and her well-muscled co-star.

RAMPAGE: George is ready for his closeup
In a scene from RAMPAGE, George roars. Or yawns? (Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures)

Casting the Rest of the RAMPAGE Call Sheet

Early on, RAMPAGE introduces three fellow zoo employees who banter well with Johnson. There is Nelson (P.J. Byrne), probably the closest thing Okoye has to a human best friend. Byrne plays him as mildly nerdy but competent and good foil. He is appropriately exasperated with his handsome friend’s rejection of humanity and, in particular, attractive women.

Then we have grad students Connor (Jake Quaid) and Amy (Breanne Hill). The former is a blowhard with stories for days but zero guts. The latter is smart, steady, and trying to flirt with Okoye to no avail. They both do well in the roles.

They also disappear at about 25 minutes and are never seen or heard from again.

The other prominent supporters are the Wydens. Ackerman plays a cold businesswoman well with a self-satisfied purr to her voice. When she goes wild-eyed and desperate at the end, she gives good face, but can’t make us feel the panic.

Lacy, on the other hand, is a himbo from start to finish, sniveling, dumb, and clearly only successful by nature of being related to Claire. I like the performance. It lends a touch of humor to scenes where Johnson isn’t and that’s all too rare here.

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Filming

Brad Peyton has worked with Johnson twice prior—on SAN ANDREAS and JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND—and brings a competent if not thrilling eye to the film.

However, he also captures an oddly bloody movie, given its rating and intentions. We see a dead man floating through space still bleeding from where his eye was ripped out, several bodies literally turn in half, a human beheading, an animal beheading, a moment of significant eye trauma, and a handful of people bitten and/or eaten by monster animals. And when I say see, I mean on-screen long enough to register with blood. While there is plenty of implied violence that takes place off-screen as well, this movie brings a surprisingly amount of gruesomeness for a PG-13 movie. I got no issue with violence, but it does add to the heaviness of the movie. This isn’t wild over the top gore you can laugh at; it is pretty realistic—as far as it can be—and drags the movie a bit.

RAMPAGE: Agent Harvey Russell
Jeffrey Dean Morgan has a heck of a time in RAMPAGE. (Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures)

Striking the Set

RAMPAGE had good performances, especially from Johnson and Morgan, strong CGI, and some funny lines. The distance between funny lines—especially during the second act—is far too long though. When the plot kicks in, we rarely get the visceral, naughty thrill of witnessing monster destruction. Instead, the movie grows leaden and stale. It is the kind of movie that, when the lights come up, you realize you really did not enjoy. It should have been a dumb delight; instead it is a bit of a dumb drag.

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