- Directed by: Brad Peyton
- Written by: Ryan Engle, Carlton Cruse, Ryan J. Condal and Adam Sztykiel
- Starring: Dwayne Johnson and Naomie Harris
- Classification: PG; 107 minutes
There’s this theory that Godzilla is a metaphor for the atomic bomb, the monster that ate Tokyo providing a way for Japan to process the trauma of Hiroshima and Nagasaki through the consolation of popular entertainment.
If that’s the case, then Rampage is a movie that offers a comforting revision of 9/11: a giant gorilla, wolf and alligator bring down Chicago skyscrapers in huge clouds of dust and debris – until decent people stop the destruction and ensure there is minimal loss of life.
Not that this theory will be of much interest to those who might enjoy Rampage, a movie loosely inspired by a 1986 arcade game that Warner Bros. acquired when it bought Midway Games in 2009. No, the chief delight of Rampage is the sight of the giant alligator slithering in and out of a glass tower several floors at a time or the giant gorilla simply swallowing one of the villains whole. It’s the destruction that’s appealing.
Otherwise, Rampage doesn’t have much to offer: The plot is cursory, the dialogue is repetitive and the psychology is cheap. Hanging in for the wanton violence may prove too much for anyone not seriously addicted to the guilty pleasures of cheesy sci-fi.
The science here is genome editing, genetic techniques that – in real life – are being touted as potentially revolutionary in disease prevention and food production. In Rampage, the gene editing is being developed by an evil capitalist and her dim brother in an experiment that is being conducted in the safety of a space station, until it goes haywire, produces a giant rat and crashes to Earth where it infects a gorilla in a San Diego wildlife park. (The monstrous Godzilla was produced by nuclear weapons testing; sci-fi speaks to its times.)
As a refreshingly firm female villain, Malin Akerman plays her scenes strongly and, thanks to the wonders of CGI, the rapidly expanding gorilla is kind of fun, too. Rampage’s real weakness is its other oversized creature. As primatologist David Okoye, Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson is mistakenly cast as the kind of person who is good with animals – he’s got a real bromance going with George, an albino gorilla who he rescued from poachers as a baby – but awkward with other humans.
Aside from his biceps, the former wrestler’s greatest charm is his winning smile; the notion that this guy is some shy, sharp-edged loner is less probable than George’s sudden cage-busting growth spurt. Much more comfortable as the perpetually cheery lifeguard in last summer’s Baywatch, the actor just can’t hide his natural affability and, even if the movie’s multiple script writers had provided him with smarter lines, he couldn’t deliver barbed wit to save George’s life.
Worse yet, this unlikely character has been paired oddly with Naomie Harris as a scientist who used to work for the capitalists and knows the antidote that might shrink the animals. Harris gets an Academy Award nomination for playing a drug-addicted single mother in the deeply serious and Oscar-winning best picture of 2017 (Moonlight) and somebody thinks it’s a good idea to cast her in this kind of junk? Underused is not the half of it. Her character has some ill-explained back story about a dead brother and apparently can’t get out of bed in the morning, but when she does, there’s little chemistry between her and The Rock, perhaps because their roles – and the supposed sparks – are so underwritten. Thankfully, she’s no damsel in distress, but when she and the primatologist get stuck in a plunging helicopter, the only line the writers have penned for her is “Oh, my God!” which she says multiple times.
Meanwhile, Jeffrey Dean Morgan amuses himself playing an obnoxious government agent but his federal cowboy routine becomes a mere tic long before the movie is over. Director Brad Peyton – a Newfoundlander, by the way – may have some talent for creating breathless action but he has no more luck stirring emotions here than he did directing San Andreas, another recent Rock vehicle in which a lot of things collapsed.
Inevitably, Rampage’s big beasties also wear out their welcome as the climax blurs into a numbing mass of noisy confusion. The mighty Godzilla can rest assured; its cultural crown is secure.
Rampage opens April 13.