To say that Rampage is based upon the 1980s arcade machine of the same name would be accurate – the film does feature enormous mutant creatures wreaking untold amounts of destruction on a crowded metropolis – but that’s precisely where the similarities end. While the source material offered no explanation for the existence of the monsters or their desire to level a city skyline, the film adaptation of Rampage conjures up a laughably awful backstory involving a sinister corporation experimenting with genetic editing and a special forces operative who left the military to become a primatologist.
That former solider is Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson), whose previous exploits hunting down poachers in Africa introduced him to a frightened albino gorilla named George. Years later, George makes his home at the San Diego Wildlife Sanctuary, where he’s learned to communicate via sign language – with a particular fondness for a certain crude gesture that he employs regularly in conversations with Davis, and which never failed to elicit guffaws from the screening audience. That Davis is friendlier with an ape than with any human character is pointed out by a colleague: “It’s weird that you like animals more than people.”
Trying to make sense of the events that drive the film’s narrative is an exercise in futility, even though the corporate CEO responsible for the chaos (Malin Akerman) spends a hefty portion of her screentime explaining the plot to her dimwitted brother (Jake Lacy) through a series of increasingly preposterous dialogue exchanges. The film’s screenplay seems to exist solely for the purpose of moving the audience from one enormous action setpiece to another, as if the actual plot of Rampage were conceived near the very end of the production cycle, and no one ever took the time to ponder whether or not it actually made a bit of sense (for the most part, it doesn’t).
Whatever the film lacks in coherence, director Brad Peyton balances the scales by conjuring up even more action that his previous effort, San Andreas, while feeding Johnson a steady stream of one-liners that are perfectly suited to the big guy’s innate charisma and easygoing demeanor. “That’s a big arm,” he says while wrapping a foe in a sleeper hold. “Don’t fight it.” But despite being the name on the marquee, Johnson is nearly upstaged by Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s government agent, a good ol’ boy type with a Texas drawl and a pearl-handled revolver who becomes something of an unlikely ally.
Any film that features a trio of towering creatures laying waste to skyscrapers will need to rely heavily on CG, and the results here are all over the map. George looks tremendous, with a level of realism that rivals the recent Planet of the Apes films, but the giant wolf that glides through the air like a flying squirrel feels more like a video game render than a tangible being. As for the tank-sized crocodile covered in armor plates, it falls somewhere in between – although a few shots during the third act may actually have utilized some practical effects, which is a welcome departure from the norm.
Make no mistake: Rampage is an incredibly stupid film, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. Quite the contrary, in fact: it’s a Z-grade script that – thanks to Johnson’s almost superhuman charisma – becomes a surprisingly enjoyable hybrid of B-movie creature feature and big budget action flick, and despite the number of times I found myself groaning or rolling my eyes, I can’t deny that I was always having fun.