Let’s call a spade a spade here, this film is actually quite terrible. However, there are different versions of the word ‘terrible’ when we are talking about films. The first version is that the film is utterly awful in every single way and not at all enjoyable and the second version is that the film is utterly awful in every single way and incredibly enjoyable. Rampage is the second one. The great thing about Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson movies is that they don’t take themselves too seriously and have a whole lot of fun with ridiculous stunts and over the top action sequences. San Andreas, also directed by Brad Peyton, is a perfect example of a fantastic Hollywood action flick that you can watch time and time again. It is a by the book film in terms of character arc, story development, narrative structure and the question of how Dwayne Johnson has access to a helicopter to save his entire family during a catastrophic sequence of earthquakes doesn’t even warrant asking. If we didn’t have Dwayne Johnson walking in slow motion away from a helicopter then we wouldn’t have a movie, okay? Anyway, as much as I’d love to continue talking about San Andreas let’s get down to brass tax. Rampage is a perfect popcorn movie and does its very best to entertain you from start to finish.
The story is quite simply this. Dwayne Johnson plays Davis Okoye, a primatologist, who has a very strong bond with a gorilla called George. George falls victim to a gene enhancing experiment due to a rogue payload being let off in George’s enclosure at the wildlife sanctuary where he lives. This turns George into a super gorilla and he’s not the only animal affected. Elsewhere across the United States is a super crocodile and a super wolf and the gigantic monsters all head to Chicago in response to a radio signal transmitted by the company, Energyne, who engineered the pathogen. Davis is on a race against time to find the antidote in order to save his gorilla friend and the rest of the United States from impending doom.
What Rampage lacks in realistic plot points it makes up for with overly stylized action sequences. The ‘science’ of the film doesn’t matter and nor does anything else really, while we are given some good exposition to the characters, all that does is tee them up to potentially die at the end. The villain is Claire Wyden played by Malin Akerman, and while wholly unbelievable as a CEO of a pharmaceutical company is actually quite a contrived villain. She’s not the best actress in the world but she does a good job at being totally detestable in this film because let’s face it, we are all on the side of the animals here despite their current homicidal tendencies. She’s the perfect cold-hearted bitch CEO who is driven by money, power and notoriety. Akerman isn’t exactly the worlds best actress, unlike Naomie Harris who plays Dr. Kate Caldwell who is responsible for the development of the pathogen. She had created it with the intention of curing certain diseases but discovered Energyne planned to use it as a biological weapon. She was fired and imprisoned for attempting to expose the company’s intentions, so she is the perfect companion for Davis on his mission to save George and the rest of the country from annihilation. Naomie Harris is better than this film, proven by her role in the Oscar-winning film Moonlight, but give a great actor a terrible script and they will find a way to make it work. She does just this and while her role isn’t particularly amazing nor her performance anything but mediocre, given to someone else it could have been disastrous.
The final act of this film is where things really get ridiculous and if you have seen the trailer, it is what you will have been waiting for. The three animals; George, Lizzie and Ralph (yes, really) have all converged in Chicago and are destroying everything. Davis gets hold of some of the antidote and gives it straight to his buddy George and then has his personality restored but is still absolutely gigantic. George then takes it upon himself to save his buddy Davis and kill the other two monsters. If you didn’t know already, this film is based on a 1986 arcade game of the same name where monsters fight the military until entire cities are reduced to nothing but a dusty pile of rubble. The writers did a good job of making a movie out of such a simple premise, but fans of the video game will only still be watching to reach this final act. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out how it all ends but it is quite a satisfying finale and there is no shying away from the ridiculous level of destruction caused.
Perhaps there is a message hidden within this film that humans need to stop messing about with the natural order. That creating cures for diseases will only likely be causing more damage elsewhere. That we shouldn’t be experimenting on animals. That we are the reason so many animals are becoming extinct. That animals are entirely sentient like humans are and we should focus more on building stronger relationships with those we share our planet with. These thoughts may linger with you for a fraction of a second while watching the film until a giant crocodile eats a helicopter or a giant wolf and a giant gorilla are in a death grip. It would be foolish to try and look into hidden meanings in a film like this for too long but there are certain aspects of the narrative and dialogue that suggest there is a conscious awareness of animal welfare and perhaps a very subtle message in there somewhere.
Catch Rampage on HBO on Saturday 1st December at 8:00pm.