Cinema Dispatch: Rampage

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Rampage and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures

Directed by Brad Peyton

Does anyone remember that Tomb Raider movie that came out?  Yeah, it was like a month ago but I kind of just forgot all about it already, though I guess my blissful ignorance won’t last for long considering that movie made a HUGE amount of money overseas which will inevitably lead to a sequel, but until then it looks like we’ve got another crack at the genre with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s second attempt at a video game adaptation.  Despite being buff enough to topple buildings, he is not the one RAMPAGING in this movie as it’s instead an adaptation of the classic arcade game where three giant monsters (who are TOTALLY not Godzilla, King Kong, and The Wolf Man) destroy buildings and… well that’s pretty much it.  Seems like a decent enough premise to throw a bunch of money at to make CGI mayhem, but can they manage to make this more than another monotonous action blockbuster starring the world’s most jacked teddy bear?  Let’s find out!!

The movie begins with a mission in space going HORRIFICALLY wrong (seriously, it’s about as terrifying as the end of Life) which leads to a bunch of canisters holding some sort of RAMPAGE GAS landing at various places across the US.  One lands on top of an alligator, another crashes into a wolf pack, and the last one craters into an animal sanctuary which is subsequently found by George; an albino gorilla who can speak sign language and is total bros with Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson).  Davis JUST SO HAPPENS to not only be a primate expert working at the sanctuary, but he ALSO used to hunt down poachers and even saved George from a terrible fate which led to them being buddies ever since!  If only it wasn’t for that DAMNED Science Gas made by some company led up by brothers Claire and Brett (Malin Åkerman and Jake Lacy), we could have had a movie about these two hanging out, but NO!  Instead, the Science Gas makes George grow SUPER BIG (even bigger than The Rock!!) and gives him a serious mean streak on top of that which makes it hard for even Davis’s glistening bulging muscles to contain which forces the some secret agency within the US government led by Agent Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to capture the ape and take him to Washington for experiments before putting it to sleep.  Things don’t go as planned however as Claire and Brett have even MORE sinister plots for George as well as the two other creatures roaming the countryside, and if they succeed it could spell doom for millions of people!  Will Davis along with A SCIENTISTTM (Naomie Harris) find some way to save his gorilla buddy before Claire and Brett destroy whatever is left of George and turning him into a TRUE monster?  What untold destruction will the monsters unleash upon the city, and will it look totally bad ass?  Why didn’t they just make this an Ultraman movie so that they could make The Rock into a giant!?  I’d pay to see him the size of a skyscraper doing Rock Bottoms on monsters!!

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HE LOOKS SO TINY NOW!  HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE!?

What in the hell did I just see!?  In terms of video game adaptations, I GUESS it’s on the higher end of the list, but… this is an ABSURDLY tonally dissonant movie that FEELS like it’s going for witty camp but comes off more like a poor man’s Troma film; ironic because this probably has the combined budget of every film they ever made times a thousand.  I don’t know, maybe this is gonna find an audience and will have some value as a curiosity or a cult item, but the damn thing was just too unbalanced and needlessly unpalatable for a movie that seems firmly committed to being a big crowd pleasing blockbuster.  The closest comparison would probably be Kong Skull Island which similarly had some rather dark moments in between the giant monster fun, but where that film weaved its tone and shock value seamlessly with an enjoyable story and a fun cast, this one just smashes everything together into some abomination of sick violence and cheesy one liners that’s cynically held up by one star performance.  I don’t know whether to shake this movie’s hand or slap in the face as it KIND of deserves both!

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Not you though, Mr. Johnson.  I’d never even THINK of doing that to you!

So the first thing you’re gonna notice (especially considering how this movie starts) is that it has no idea what kind of tone it wants to have as some moments are LEGITIMATELY horrifying and disturbing but are immediately followed up by John “The Dwayne” Rockson’s charming ass acting off of a gorilla and telling endearingly bad jokes!  I will give the movie a certain amount of credit that there ARE moments that feel like a legitimate middle ground between the two so it doesn’t feel ENTIRELY like two separate films running next to each other (at least for the whole runtime) but I don’t think this is gonna play with young kids considering just how mean spirited and rather cruel the movie can get at times.  If it were up to me, I’d have personally cut down on the gorier aspects and redo a few of the deaths in here to be less straight up traumatizing because as much as we can love and enjoy video games as adults, there’s something kind of gross about taking a franchise that NEVER took itself the least bit seriously and turning it into something this dark and graphic.  Now sure, the game ALWAYS had a twisted sense of humor which was a big part of its charm, but the amount of rotting corpses, dead animals, and unimaginable moments of human cruelty in this film took a lot of the fun out of what SHOULD have been an over the top and goofy monster flick.

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“I KNEW WE SHOULD HAVE FLOWN HIGHER!”     “Did you?  Did you REALLY!?  You KNEW that a giant wolf was gonna knock us out of the sky?”

Even if the change in tone wasn’t to my taste, it’ll probably be a non-issue for a lot of people (the sick bastards!), so let’s try to take my own distaste for the tonal inconsistency and try to judge this on how well it accomplishes the goals it sets for itself.  Does it have good monster scenes, does the story have a solid progression to it, and does Rocky Dwayneson carry this film on his mighty and charismatic shoulders?  For the most part I’d say this DOES have some great action and a very likable lead in Rockington Dwayneson Esquire, but even if I wasn’t put off by the more grotesque moments in this, this is hardly what I’d call a great story; nor do I think there’s ENOUGH action to keep audiences entertained through its runtime.  There are action beats throughout with one on a plane being a particular highlight, but it really isn’t until the third act that this feels ANYTHING like a Rampage movie.  Even the big action set pieces towards the end are a mixed bag as there are some SPECTACULAR moments and some very creative ways that things blow up, but other than George you just don’t really feel anything for the monsters (I don’t even think Lizzie is named) and the main characters are far enough from the action for most of it that it doesn’t have a lot of impact overall.  Speaking of characters, other than Johnny Rockson there isn’t much to write home about.  I always love seeing Jeffrey Dean Morgan show up in anything, but his weird cowboy accent throughout this felt like a gimmick without a punchline, and Naomie Harris as the scientist who knows what’s going on is completely overshadowed by Rocky “The Rock” Rockson who the camera never dares to deviate from unless we’re switching to giant CGI monsters.  The villains COULD have been fun but I found neither to be likably detestable and instead were just… well detestable.  Malin Åkerman is trying her ass off as the coldhearted villain, but they overplay their hand with her and she comes off less as a criminal mastermind as more like a caricature of women in power the filmmakers have an axe to grind against; especially with the way she’s dispatched at the end.  At least she fares better than Jake Lacy though whose foolishness shtick runs dry pretty fast and ends up being annoying more than anything else.  There’s just not a lot to chew on here in terms of drama, suspense, or even motivations outside of what they do with Dwayneson “The Rockening” Johnington and his pal George which I will grant you is strong enough to pretty much carry this thing all the way through, but still makes the movie’s narrative feel rather barren and perfunctory.

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HE’S JUST SO CUTE!!

While I may be sounding rather wishy-washy on this film, I do want to point out some of the things I liked about this.  The chemistry between Dwayne Dwayneson and his CGI gorilla buddy is actually rather endearing and very fun to watch in the first act; to the point that I kind of just want a movie about Rockin’ Dwayne and his gorilla buddy George just hanging out at the animal sanctuary!  The CGI used for George is rather impressive at conveying a real sense of personality and it does a great job of setting up their relationship later on in the movie so that you buy why John Rock Dwayneson is so motivated to save his monkey pal despite him being PRETTY deeply brainwashed, but it also ended up being the highlight of the film for me which the rest of the movie couldn’t really compete with.  Even so, the film does shine at moments like the big airplane action set piece right in the middle and pretty much every scene with Jeffrey Dean Morgan acting smug and folksy.  The action at the end is really solid too even if I found it a bit monotonous, and The Dwayne “The Rock” The Johnson even gets in on the Giant Monster fight in a way that I wouldn’t say is BELIEVABLE but at least is super fun to watch play out.

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“Okay, George!  Have you ever heard of the Rock ‘n’ Sock Combination?”     “RAAAHHHHH!!”     “You’re right.  We should probably follow YOUR lead.”

I don’t think this is a complete waste or even an embarrassment like so many video game movies before it even if I would still hesitate to say it’s one of the best ones or even a particularly GOOD film.  We’re at a point where there’s enough money to throw at these properties that we no longer have to measure video game movies by their own sliding scale of quality which is a good thing even if the best we’re still getting is a lesser entry in the monster movie genre.  I don’t REALLY recommend seeing it in theaters, especially when we’ve gotten some REALLY great monster movies in the last year you could catch up on instead like Kong Skull Island, Shin Godzilla, and even Colossal which I hear is fantastic.  Heck, Pacific Rim Uprising might still be playing at your local theater, and I’d highly recommend checking that out before you see this one!  Still, it is what it is which is not all that bad.  It’s not great and it’s gonna be one of the lesser known entries in Dwayneson “The Rockson” Johnson’s sterling film career (one that will be of great historical significance once he runs for some sort of office), but I can think of worse ways to spend an afternoon than watching him hang out with a bad ass gorilla.  Heck, if John Cena doesn’t work out as a running mate, President Johnson 2: Electric Boogaloo will at least have the adorable animal lover vote!

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