Rampage (Brad Peyton, 2018) 1½ out of 4 stars.
Brad Peyton, director of San Andreas and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, teams up with collaborator Dwayne Johnson in their new outing: Rampage. Loosely based on the classic 1980s arcade game of the same name, Rampage centers around Johnson’s Davis Okoye, your average muscle-bound primatologist, who shares an unshakeable bond with a rare albino silver-back gorilla named George. When rogue genetic experiments crash-land from a destroyed space station in three separate locations, including George’s enclosure, the gentle ape and two other animals are infected by the contents of the experiments and undergo painful, DNA-altering side-effects. Much to Davis’s and his colleagues’ surprise, George is bigger, stronger, faster and more irritable than ever before. Davis, along with a discredited geneticist and cowboy F.B.I agent–played by Naomie Harris and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, respectively–band together to find the people responsible for the experiments and the antidote that will cure George of his rampaging tendencies.
On the surface, and in many of its internal mechanics, Rampage is another indistinct link in Hollywood’s ever-lengthening chain of complicit blockbusters that meet the bare requirements of entertainment. There’s never a character you haven’t seen before or a story beat you couldn’t predict. The film stands on the flimsy base of star power, hallow use of 1980s nostalgia and a half-cooked pitch along the lines of “what if Dwayne Johnson and a King Kong-sized gorilla fought a giant wolf and a giant alligator in the heart of Chicago?”
Boom! You have another bland blockbuster for the ages!
Brad Peyton’s priorities are WWE-style matches between the 50-foot tall animals and Davis’s and George’s relationship. Scenes involving human characters carry no weight and no identifiable humanity. The actors spew out the usual dialogue of exposition and science mumbo jumbo that desperately tries to sound important. Thankfully Johnson, Harris and Morgan are charming-enough performers, or at the very least care about the sizeable paycheck in their pockets, to make these scenes bearable.
What makes Rampage deserving of the above one-and-a-half-star rating is a likable chemistry between Dwayne Johnson and actor Jason Liles, who performed George using motion-capture technology. Liles’s solid acting is covered up with a computer-generated gorilla, but the man is on set with Johnson and the emotion between the two is real. This bond between beast and man is an enjoyable highlight and is what makes the action-packed carnage so crowd-pleasing.
One of the little things to survive Rampage’s onslaught of contrivance and stupidity is a decent amount of heart. Dwayne Johnson has proven once again that his charisma, even if he puts it in neutral, can make the dumbest tentpole-blockbuster tolerable. This is an impressive feat; a feat only a handful of actors have pulled off in the past. However, one does wonder how long Johnson can keep this up until his audiences begin to dwindle one by one and he’s forced to take a real gamble and embrace something new in the next decade.