Rampage is hardly the smash we hoped for
'Rampage' was not the worst movie I have ever seen, but further compliments seldom exceed such high praise. Since this, like so many others, falls into the platitude themes of the Michael Bay era: an A-list actor at the core (preferably with a heart), city liquidation, undeveloped masculine characters, fraudulent corporate villains, slow-motion action, and of course, a tease of transformative American propaganda. All of which manufactured to service the thrill-seekers of the video game generation.
Where each ascending problem, as seen here, basks in gargantuan excitement and over-the-top antics that wipes out the senses, to the point where what was aimed to be hardy fun, becomes nonsensical. Whereas, I understand it isn't easy to blend considerable, high scale monstrous action with grounded realism. I also know no one walks into this expecting philosophical high art that makes us question humanity, most importantly, however, I know it doesn't take rocket science for me to decipher that a movie that noisily pounds its chest shouldn't make me drowsy.
'Rampage' is based on a 1986 arcade game by the same name. One that found kids furiously shifting their joysticks, as they controlled their virtual monsters fate through a plot-less endeavor, banking on its undiplomatic themes of mass destruction-- a premise alone that would have any eight-year-old boy racing into the nearest 'Dave and Busters' arcade. The goal of the game, of course, was to reduce the industrial(though now dated) cities into a mere afterthought and rubble, earning points along the way. Though here, the incongruous childlike muscled machismo pornography of beefy men and monsters, that ultimately leaves Chicago worse off than after the infamous 1871 fire, doesn't earn this movie any points--though it is just enough to get Brad Peyton's B-rate blockbuster through the first metaphorical level.
When a Gorilla is the most humane character in your film, odds are you are doing something wrong, the exception being the 'Planet of the Apes' franchise. Since the star here feels as distant as the audience, which is a rarity for Dwayne Johnson, the man who, usually, no matter the rubbish that is churned out countless times a year with his stern face on the poster, gives it his best effort. Which brings into question, why not here? Could it have been the paycheck or perhaps the movie's lack of confidence and explanation?
Hint, it is probably the latter. The movies lack of explanation comes as no shock, as any convoluted script comes from four individual minds is a set up to lack personality-- in other words-- the scatterbrained pacing and disposition is the 800-pound Gorilla in the room, not the monster itself. Though what is most concerning, is the thought that such writers haven't ever played or let alone glanced at the source material. The goal of the game is to destroy cities not to save them. Somehow, we spend the entirety of the running time watching--at times sleeping-- through the bemused cliche of smoldering the Rock Johnson rampaging through improbable, if not impossible obstacles to save Chicago. Harkening the tropes of a creature-feature like 'Them!' rather than the devastatingly fun pulp poetry of the original 'Godzilla.'
As hinted at before, the latest feature from the Peyton/Johnson duo continues. The "let's entertain audiences with shattering cities and odd Dwayne Johnson closeups", though in 'Rampage,' unlike, say 'San Andreas', the line between campy cheese and serious drama isn't a seamless blend, rather, both feel forced, and the final product awkwardly resides in an undecided medium. One that reflects the current Hollywood state of mind, arguing, if our picture glosses through significance straight into statewide epidemics, people will pay to see this unimaginative schlock like 'Tomb Raider' and 'Rampage,' over the craft like this years 'Annihilation.' Which was too "intellectual" for an overseas release (according to the studio), God knows what would happen if we used our brains! And it is now the pretentious titans of industry, who we presumed to be towering intellectuals who sit in their ivory towers that have developed a new antithetical phrase, brawn over brains.
The titans of industry in this movie, Energyne, lead by a smug Jake Lacy (formerly known from the Office)--who plops out nervous lines slower then your stereotypical white pudgy comedic relief character(P.J. Byrne) can run--have created a serum that morphs animals who already resided near the top of the food chain, into large-scale beasts that devour cities like the creatures in the game devoured coins. And why? Well... the reason isn't really explained. But a 40 foot flying wolf who slings spikes from his tail with calculated precision into helicopters, a scaly crocodile with a tale the size of cloud gate, and a silver-back Gorilla named George that follows in the footsteps of 'King Kong' could practically coin the term "monsterpiece". Though this an indifferent effect.
The first genre of film that captivated me as a child was the giant monster flicks, and a good one still blows me away today. It's a form of artistry that cannot be assembled by any other medium, a spectacle that remains to on the big screen. As I sat down and marveled at 1933's 'King Kong', 1954's 'Godzilla,' and 1953's 'The Beast from 20,000 Phantoms', even as a kid I was able to notice what made these effective and what made a movie like 'Tremors' ineffective. There is a certain subtle magic and confidence that lies beneath the behemoths. They were movies that knew what they were and committed to that rhetoric. Peyton's action is explosive, the monsters weave in and out of buildings, sending rubble and debris soaring in every direction. Scaling the Sears Tower, smashing the defending Army's artillery that resembles miniature toy replicas in comparison to their vast scale-- along the way. Though such campy bewildering excitement only caters to the final twenty minutes, the rest of the runtime is undecided whether it want's to be an animal activist human drama or a video game action-packed extravaganza.
The approach to the multifaceted premise was to erect larger than life characters to match the monsters. Yet, the characters here go noticeably un-developed. Albeit the stars aren't actually what we came to see. Our hero Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson), is the owner of the San Diego Wildlife Sanctuary, and has made friends with a Gorilla named George, who he has taught sign language to (with the addition of a few juvenile ques that remain the only earned jokes of many, we do occasionally laugh at the movies awkwardness as well).
The ability to cast Naomi Harris as a do-nothing damsel in distress is funny for all the wrong reasons as well. But it is Jeffery Dean Morgan as a Tommy Lee Jones impersonator (i'm sure they didn't cast him to impersonate another three first names actor on those grounds) who steals the shows, like a raspy Western "asshole," whose motto is "we assholes got to stick together."
Though a more justifiable slogan for 'Rampage' is one said by Naomi Harris, "we can get in each other's faces and see who's the toughest" she says with the utmost sincerity. The monsters fight for seniority. The humans bicker for the very same title, even the movie itself brands it's toughness to the very same Michael Bay esque defect. This is what I presume will be the most famous scene in this forgettable blockbuster, when George flips off Johnson, though little does George know were flipping this movie off ourselves.