‘Rampage’ Review: All Hail The Rock, America’s Khakiest Hero
The villain of Rampage, a evil CEO named Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman), has an old Rampage arcade cabinet in her office. Let’s ponder the implications of this. It means that when Akerman’s Claire Wyden named her ill-advised scheme to inject edited genes into animals “Project Rampage” she was actually inspired by the video game — a game, mind you, about three giant beasts who systematically destroy the United States. This titan of industry, the head of an enormous biotech conglomerate, looked at Rampage and thought “Hey, that’s a good idea. I think I’m going to try to make some money by replicating the concept of a monster apocalypse.”
In the film, Wyden’s DNA experiments are conducted on a space station, supposedly because these hybrid animals are so dangerous they’ve been made illegal. This is like running a business via Roll Safe meme — can’t get in trouble for doing experiments that are banned on Earth if you’re not technically on Earth. And really, what better place could there be to test a hazardous technology than a highly pressurized and extremely flammable cigar tube thousands of miles above the Earth’s surface?
Sure enough, a rat dosed with this Project Rampage stuff gets quite upset, the space station goes kablooey, and the remaining Rampage samples crash land on Earth right next to a gorilla, a wolf, and a crocodile, transforming them into the exact same giant monsters (the exact same ones!) featured in the arcade game that inspired Claire to fund the Project Rampage project in the first place.
That is quite a coincidence, and in another movie it would probably be a problem. In Rampage, it is a selling point. The entire movie is built on this foundation of knowing silliness. Who was it — Socrates maybe, or Snooki from Jersey Shore? — who said that the most important thing in life is to know thyself? Rampage knows itself. It’s so self-aware about its stupidity that it almost loops back around to being smart.
Its human protagonist is played by Dwayne Johnson, America’s khakiest action hero. Having just played a video game character in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Johnson now transitions to fighting video game characters as Davis Okoye, the only man alive who can stop Wyden’s rampaging critters from laying waste to Chicago. This Davis is a curious fellow; a primatologist (and former Special Forces soldier [and former member of the United Nations’ Anti-Poaching Squad]) who prefers the company of animals to humans. He is an intriguing mystery. As played by The Rock, Davis is handsome, charming, brilliant — and incredibly lonely. What could possibly drive this man away from people? There must be a buried secret in his past.
The film does eventually reveal a few tidbits of key backstory, but not too much because this movie is called Rampage, not Who Hurt You, Khaki Man? So back to business: Davis’ best animal chum is an albino gorilla named George, who starts growing at an impossible rate after a few sniffs of the Wyden formula. The scientist who created Project Rampage, Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), shows up at Davis’ animal sanctuary hoping to reverse George’s condition. Before she can, they’re all taken into custody by a mysterious government agent (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).
Here is how Morgan’s Agent Russell describes his job: “When science s—s the bed, I’m the guy they call to change the sheets.” I have a very hard time not liking a movie with the cojones to have a character deliver lines like that, particularly when they’re spoken by an actor like Morgan, taking evident pleasure in appearing in such a silly film. (He plays Russell like he’s the love child of Foghorn Leghorn and a young Jack Nicholson.) And really everyone looks like they’re having a good time in Rampage, even George the Gorilla (motion-captured by actor Jason Liles), who delights in razzing Johnson with sign-language insults.
Rampage won’t set the world on fire (our world, at least; it sets plenty of its world on fire when George and his two giant pals arrive in Chicago), but it does exactly what it says on the tin: It’s a big, goofy romp about creatures who lay waste to a major American city while the Rock cracks jokes in a light brown shirt. There’s even an homage to the best part of the old game, where you could pull innocent bystanders out of buildings and eat them. By default, that makes Rampage one of the best video-game movies ever. It ain’t Shakespeare, but neither was the game — which, to its credit, did inspire an evil CEO to splice animal genes in order to create a 50-foot-tall wolf that can shoot quills out of its tail like a deranged porcupine. So remember kids: Dreams really do come true.
-In the film, the three different monsters are initially spread out across the U.S., but they’re eventually drawn together in Chicago. I will not spoil why they all go there, but it involves another Wyden scheme that truly might be the single dumbest bad guy plan in the 120-year history of cinema. I do not use these words lightly. It is impressively stupid, even for a villain who used a video game about wanton destruction as the inspiration for her business.
-It’s very fortunate these gene-editing samples all land near animals and not a human being. Gotta save something for the sequel, I guess.