Sometimes a movie is exactly what it says on the tin and with a title like Rampage… well, it’s pretty hard to be surprised. Loosely based on the classic 1986 arcade game of the same name, Rampage is director Brad Peyton’s third outing with Dwayne Johnson and second major foray into the world of major blockbuster destruction, after 2015’s natural disaster flick San Andreas — and honestly? That probably tells you exactly what you need to know.
Here’s the thing: Rampage is not, strictly speaking, a bad movie. Sure, it’s pretty thin in the plot area and if you’re not immediately sold by the phrase “The Rock has an adventure with his best friend, a giant albino gorilla,” you probably won’t be into it, but it’s not bad. It’s actually, for all its faults, pretty fun.
It’s a surprising show of self-awareness in a genre where restraint is generally the enemy. The plot — an evil, shady bio-engineering company called Energyne loses control of an illegal experiment that catches three unsuspecting animals in the crossfire and leads to a national disaster — is totally, utterly utilitarian, but it works for the movie’s purposes just fine. Rampage does exactly enough exposition and worldbuilding to make its story hold up under some half-hearted inspection, and doesn’t bother with much more. It strikes a rare and refreshing balance for the “big, dumb explosion” genre where stories can either become tangled expository messes or pure noise.
That said, it’s definitely not a movie that’s trying to say much of anything. The central theme, if you could call it that, revolves around Johnson’s Davis Okoye, a ex-military primatologist who loves animals and thinks humans are largely pointless, and his best friend, the (soon to be giant) gorilla George. It’s not quite a kaiju version of Clifford the Big Red Dog, but it’s close — except George, who communicates predominantly in sign language, occasionally edges into an eye-rolling elementary school humor that may cause your mileage to very.
Okoye is joined by Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), a brilliant ex-Energyne employee and Agent Russell (Jeffery Dean Morgan), a drawling good ol’ boy federal agent as they try to cure George and stop Energyne from getting away with it all.
The chemistry between the trio keeps the whole movie afloat, especially once the situation with George starts to go completely off the rails. Johnson and Harris manage to be a fun, well drawn heroic duo who shockingly don’t feel like the requisite love interest factor tossed in to round out an already extremely masculine story — but the real chemistry happens between Johnson and Morgan. Okoye and Russell almost immediately strike up a playful, winking banter that is just begging to be explored further.
It’s not likely Rampage is going to launch any major franchise universes but if there’s any justice in the world, we’ll see Morgan and Johnson come together again in some sort of buddy-cop story somewhere down the line.
There are other characters in the movie — some of them are actually pretty funny, even — but they’re mostly disposable in the face of the movie’s not-so-secret rush to shut up and get to the mayhem. Malin Akerman is obviously having a ton of fun oozing evil as the CEO of Energyne and Jake Lacy puts on a convincing tongue-in-cheek pastiche of Donald Trump as her brother and bumbling second in command — but neither of them get much development beyond being Evil with a capital E. Joe Manganiello and Will Yun Lee show up for a second too, but if you blink you might miss them.
Again, none of this should be that surprising. Rampage is nothing if not exactly what it advertises itself to be. The creature designs are pretty cool, the visual effects are completely believable, and the script may not be the tightest or the most profound but it does carry the whole thing far enough to keep an audience entertained and at least sort of engaged for just over an hour and a half.
The bottom line is this: if you want to spend your evening watching a giant gorilla run around punching high rises and throwing tanks alongside The Rock, you won’t be disappointed. Rampage isn’t a great movie, but it could have been so much worse than it actually wound up being — and, if you’re a fan of this specific brand of blockbuster, there are certainly worse ways to spend your time and money.
Rampage debuts in theaters on April 13.
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