The 400-Word Review: Rampage
By Sean Collier
April 16, 2018
It’s hard to convey just how wrong the tone is in Rampage, the loose video-game adaptation starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Where there should have been frivolity and fun, there is gritty intensity; where there should have been popcorn escapism, there are stark reminders of tragedy.
It is phenomenally misguided. The cinematic equivalent of playing Black Eyed Peas at a funeral. Have you ever forgotten that you have a formal meeting and been forced to turn up wearing a sweat-stained ballcap and an ironic t-shirt? Rampage feels like that.
Yet it’s not quite awful, because The Rock is just that charismatic.
It’s the near future (presumably), and an evil corporation has developed a ... well, a macguffin that causes animals to mutate, resulting in rapid growth, unchecked aggression and regenerative abilities. They’re testing it in space (it’s not clear why); when an orbiting test subject goes all Xenomorph, the only survivor grabs the remaining samples and heads for the escape pod. The pod explodes during re-entry and the samples are strewn throughout the mainland United States, where each is discovered by a curious animal.
Yes: We needed all that just to get to “a couple animals get big.”
One of those unwitting beasts is George, an albino gorilla at the San Diego Zoo. He’s the charge of primatologist/army ranger/paramilitary anti-poaching activist (seriously) Davis Okoye (Johnson), who spends the film trying to save his friend — the evil corporation unleashes a second macguffin which causes the infected animals to make a beeline for company headquarters in downtown Chicago — and then, eventually, fighting alongside George (after the introduction of a third macguffin) against the other two baddies.
This all has very little to do with the video game on which the film is allegedly based (and which, staggeringly, is prominently featured in several shots). The video game Rampage was little but Godzilla-inspired monsters toppling buildings; where the four credited writers of the film might’ve found a way to soften the stakes of such imagery, they instead went the other way, visually and thematically invoking 9/11 on several occasions.
What, you wanted light fun from your big-ape flick?
Despite inept writing, the combined power of Johnson’s performance and big-monster action (which is unavoidably cinematic) carry Rampage to bare watchability, but no further. There are some things you can’t screw up all the way, even if you’re trying very, very hard.
My Rating: 4/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark