Joyce Glasser reviews Rampage (April 12, 2018) Cert. 12A, 107 min.
What happens when a talented, muscular superstar, who, at times, resembles a gorilla, has no more natural disasters to survive, cars to race, bad guys to finish off or women to win? He could become a Marvel Comic Superhero, but all the places are taken. He could turn to video games where he can go back to the jungle, as in last year’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Or, he could bring the jungle into the city, with grotesque monster animals, the products of evil entrepreneurs. Based loosely on the 1986 arcade game Rampage, in which players control giant monsters who try to survive the attacks of the US military forces, Rampage starts out well and ends up in euphoria of wanton destruction. Director Brad Peyton and co-producer/lead actor Dwayne Johnson stage a rampage; but throw the rule book away so that anything goes – including suspense or any semblance of credibility.
Of course, if you put Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in a film entitled Rampage viewers will flock to the cinema with certain expectations. They will want some of Johnson’s gentile giant charm, a moment of vulnerability and his great comic delivery. They will also want him to kick ass; in fact, quite a lot of that.
First, though, the gentle giant side comes into focus as we meet San Diego Wildlife Sanctuary Primatologist Davis Okoye, a man whose CV suggests he is overqualified for the job. But that’s only because we cannot yet appreciate what the job will entail. He speaks in sign language to the gorillas and shares irreverent jokes with a rare albino silverback gorilla named George. We later learn that when Davis was heading an anti-poaching unit in Africa, he found little George frightened and hiding after his mother was killed by poachers. He took George back to the Wildlife Sanctuary where he helps him get along with a new male gorilla, Paolo.
When we first meet Davis, he is taking a group of university students around the complex. They are all in awe of Davis’s ability to communicate with the primates. A pretty blonde is in awe of Davis full stop, but he, as his colleague Nelson (P.J. Byrne) can’t help but notice, is more interested in animals than in people. ‘They get me’, he tells the envious Nelson. As Davis drives off, Nelson ponders, ‘Maybe if I shave my head’… Not quite, Nelson.
In the film’s prologue a hapless scientist contacts some mission control in Chicago as a space ship is spiralling out of control and a severed hand floats by. Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman), CEO of Energyne, is not the kind of boss you want when you are alone with a giant rat in a failing space craft. ‘Either you come home with my research or you don’t come home at all’ she threatens. The scientist never makes it home, but Claire is delighted. She tries to explain to her dimwit brother Brett (Jake Lacy) that their formula works and lives on in the debris that has fallen to earth.
Davis is unaware until it is too late that the meteor that happens to land that very night, just next to George, will subject him to the mysterious formula that will cause him to grow bigger and more aggressive. What’s more he will take on self-healing properties, making it harder to destroy him. You can see why Claire is thrilled with the commercial potential for such a drug or procedure.
If that isn’t bad enough (and it never is) Davis – now joined by Dr Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), a former Energyne scientist turned whistle blower – learns that a grey wolf and soon, an American crocodile have been infected too. They are now so large and ferocious that even mercenary Burke (Joe Manganiello), head of a killer elite team hired by the Wyden’s to find the wolf, meets with a grizzly end.
Claire, in her infinite wisdom and greed, has decided to activate a high pitched sound device that will draw the animals to her office tower in Chicago at which point she will turn off the device. See the wolf leave the Black Hills of South Dakota and head with incredible speed to Chicago, followed soon by the military, the news announcers and Davis and Kate. All following the progress of ‘George and the Wolf’.
Can Kate obtain the antidote from Energyne before it’s too late? Can Davis save Chicago from these beasts that are far more destructive than King Kong? Will Agent Russell, now that Davis has saved his life, be able to prevent the military from blowing up the city?
These are not necessarily questions we need the answers to, as we are confident that answers in the affirmative are the point of the film. There is still room for suspense, but somehow Peyton (who worked with Johnson in the disaster movie, San Andreas in 2015) dispenses with that by tearing up the rule book and making it impossible for anyone to be killed (except, it seems, by Davis).
The problem with Rampage is that in the final half hour the destruction of Chicago by CGI is so brutal that any likelihood of anyone dodging the monsters and surviving is very slim, Yet Davis emerges without so much as a sprained wrist. The point of the video game becomes clear as well in the final third of the film. It is, quite simply, to destroy cities. Cities are, of course, about more than buildings and art. There are people too – but here the emphasis is on the buildings.
Many of the cities mentioned in the film are those in the game. Chicago has some of the most important 19th and 20th century architecture in the world, however after the destruction of Dresden, the World Trade Towers, and the Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban, to name just a few of the cultural monuments destroyed in real life, aren’t there better targets for kids to aim at?
You can watch the film trailer here: