Review of Rampage: a 2018 American science fiction monster film directed by Brad Peyton, loosely based on the video game series of the same name by Midway Games.
Dwayne Johnson stars as Davis Okoye, a primatologist who seeks answers after his gorilla friend, George, starts growing exponentially in size and aggression in Rampage. Is it good?
Rampage (New Line/Warner Bros.)
Loosely based on the Midway series of arcade games, Rampage opens dramatically enough, as a lab accident on a space station causes three canisters of genetic modifying gas to plummet to Earth. The results are what you might expect. A canister in the Everglades causes an alligator to grow to enormous size, while a wolf in Wyoming not only grows but gains the ability to fly, while the final canister lands in the gorilla enclosure of George, an albino silverback gorilla who is being cared for by Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson).
Johnson and mo-cap actor Jason Liles immediately sell the connection between Okoye and George. You can buy that there’s a friendship there and a respect for one another. These early scenes between the two also help differentiate George from other cinematic gorillas – I don’t think we’ll ever see King Kong or Mighty Joe Young pound it.
Rounding out the human cast are Naomie Harris as Dr. Kate Caldwell, the geneticist whose work was used to create the mutagen, Malin Akerman as the venomous Claire Wyden, the corporate head who is stole Caldwell’s work, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the scene-stealing Harvey Russell, a government agent (because these types of movies must have them).
Harris acquits herself well as Dr. Caldwell. There’s a worry at the beginning that Rampage will fall into the same “bro-science guy teaches science woman how to loosen up” that Jurassic World did, but thankfully, the film avoids any such dynamic. Caldwell and Okoye work together throughout the film, with the tension between them primarily based around Okoye’s concern for George. Johnson and Harris have good chemistry together, which is great, because the film rests on their shoulders for much of the second act.
There are some places where Rampage falls short – Jake Lacy never seems to get comfortable in the role of Brett Wyden, the cowardly brother to Akerman’s Claire. He’s supposed to be this wormy buffoon, but Lacy can’t quite get the lines to land right. The arc for Johnson’s Davis Okoye also falls short. We’re supposed to believe that his history of tracking poachers have made him a misanthrope who feels closer to animals than he does to people. Johnson tries to sell the concept with his acting alone, but the script never delves deep enough into it to really see it and that makes it hard to buy his arc at the end.
But who are we kidding? No one is going to see Rampage to see The Rock learn to love people again. The monster action is a lot of fun. George, the Wolf, and the Gator (the latter two are sadly never referenced as Ralph and Lizzie in the film) run amok. The fight pays homage to the spirit of the game as each of the monsters tries to scale Sears Tower to reach a radio signal that is calling them. Once Davis is able to reach George, the battle becomes a two vs. two as the Rock shows both his abilities and limits in a man vs. monster bout. The CGI in some of the scenes is a bit unpolished, but because you buy the relationship between Davis and George, it’s hard to become distracted from rooting for them.
Is It Good?
Some script hiccups prevent Rampage from breaking out into the B-movie bliss of Kong: Skull Island, but Dwayne Johnson’s charisma and charm wins out, as does Liles’ performance as George. The film never stops dead in its tracks, and when the monster fights happen, the film really takes off. As a young man I talked to said, “it was lit.”