It wasn’t that long ago that Dwayne (“The Rock”) Johnson had to go on the defensive at WrestleMania when John Cena called him out for abandoning WWE for Hollywood. Cena, of course, has gone on to enjoy a nice little Hollywood career of his own, including last week’s hilarious Blockers. Johnson should now be on the defensive again… if, that is, there’s any way to defend the waste of time that his latest starrer Rampage is.
Based as loosely as human possibly on the old-time video game, Rampage is one of those ridiculous monster movies that makes you desperately hope the monsters win, obliterating every last vestige of humanity in the process. And though Johnson remains one of the film’s few (if only) bright spots, it’s not enough to justify this thing ever getting made in the first place.
We’ve seen the plot hundreds of times before (including just a few weeks ago in Pacific Rim: Uprising)—big monsters terrorize city; will they be defeated? And the four-person screenwriting team, which includes Lost vet Carlton Cuse, doesn’t bring anything original to the party. More than half the movie is the requisite scenes of urban destruction and mayhem, and while I enjoy a good disaster porn flick as much as the next guy, Rampage’s lame script and flimsy characters just make it all far too tedious.
Johnson stars as Davis Okoye, a primate communication expert working with a rare albino gorilla named George. (Davis has a team of young bucks helping him, but they’re forgotten after the first half-hour, so don’t get attached.) After a preposterous outer space-based prologue that not only makes us legitimately wonder if we’re in the wrong theater but also makes it very clear the level of preposterous-ness we’re gotten ourselves in for, a trio of hazardous canisters fall to the Earth and infect nearby animals with a genetic mutation that makes them grow at exponential rates. George, naturally, is one victim, along with a wolf in the Rockies and a croc in the Everglades. And thus, the rampage begins.
Davis eventually teams with Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) to try to find the antidote that will stop the animals’ growth; it turns out that Kate was recently fired from the evil Energyne (gah, even the names are silly!), where callous CEO Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman) and her snivelly brother Brett (Jake Lacy) were trying to weaponize the mutation. Now that they know it works, they use a radio transmitter to call the three monsters to Chicago with the hopes that… well, it’s not clear whythey do it, other than logistically it gets everything together in one place so the mayhem has ample opportunity to ensue.
And we do get mayhem galore—a space station explosion, a huge plane crash, and the veritable destruction of half of downtown Chicago… not to mention a bevy of other scenes so over-the-top that your disbelief may become permanently suspended. Director Brad Peyton has proven he knows how to make decent disaster flicks, including 2015’s goofy-fun San Andreas (also with Johnson), but he takes a big step backward here.
There’s precious little that works in Rampage, not the least of which is the utter lunacy of the main plot along with the characters’ reactions to it. Of course there’s the pig-headed military commander who refuses to take Davis’s advice only to realize (too late) that he should have. And Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s wise-cracking cowboy/special agent may just snap your neck with how quickly he goes from “bad guy” to “hero’s buddy”.
Fortunately Johnson has built up enough cred that Rampage will be viewed as one of the few bumps (along with last May’s god-awful Baywatch) on an otherwise surprisingly decent resume. But if Cena is keeping score, he’s got a 1-0 lead so far this year.