Warner Bros.’ cinematic adaptation of the video game Rampage is a pleasant surprise, successfully translating a simple arcade game into a carnage-filled summer blockbuster. It helps that the premise of Rampage — the movie and the game — is so basic: scientific experiment goes horribly wrong, giant mutated creatures lay waste to the much of the United States.
The original Rampage video game’s inspirations were obvious: What if Godzilla and King Kong (oh, and a very large wolf) wreaked havoc on midwestern U.S. cities, bringing down buildings and gobbling up people? That sounds fun. Turns out it’s a solid starting point for a delightfully dumb movie that delivers spectacular destruction in yet another action vehicle for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
In Brad Peyton’s Rampage, Johnson plays Davis Okoye, an ever-so-slight variation on Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson only this time he’s a primatologist who shines to animals more than humans. Okoye’s on-screen best bud is Kong stand-in George, an albino gorilla who lives contentedly at the San Diego Zoo until an unfortunate run-in with the aforementioned genetic experiment gone awry. George’s transformation from friendly prankster gorilla to giant, angry ape leads Okoye and genetic scientist Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) on a cross-country chase to put an end to George’s rampage before the military can put him down.
Complicating Okoye and Caldwell’s mission are two other giant beasts mutated by the same genetic experiment: a wolf (with wings!) and a gargantuan Floridian crocodile.
Rampage introduces Okoye as an imminently likable animal lover who shuns human relationships. He commands the respect of his colleagues and the apes he cares for, and spurns the romantic advancements of a fawning young zoologist in favor of hanging out with a couple of dogs. We learn that as a former member of an anti-poaching task force, Okoye has seen the ugliest side of humanity and, while in the field, formed a close relationship with George.
Okoye is overly capable (not to mention overly buff) for a primatologist; not only can he navigate gorilla social dynamics, he’s also pretty handy with a grenade launcher and commandeers no less than three helicopters during the Rampage’s nearly two-hour running time. Johnson plays him with his trademark brand of muscular confidence, to the point where his charisma seems borderline superhuman. At one point, another character even refers to him as “ya big lug” to drive home just how much a lovable gentle giant he’s supposed to be.
Okoye’s foils come in the form of a mysterious G-man played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan — a self-described cowboy, complete with prominent belt buckle and gun with a mother-of-pearl pistol grip — and the Wydens, a brother and sister duo who run the evil megacorp that started this whole genetically mutated monster mess. Malin Akerman plays Claire Wyden, an icy executive who wants to control her giant pets, while Jake Lacy steals the show as her brother Brett. Lacy’s performance as the weaselly, bumbling brother makes for some of Rampage’s best non-action moments, and his sharp comic relief stands out in a movie where many of the one-liners don’t quite land.
Morgan seems to have had the most fun on set playing a wise-crackin’ tough guy fixer who delivers gems like “When science shits the bed, I’m the one they call to change the sheets.” But Akerman is also fun to watch, often for her delivery of tropey evil executive dialogue.
The massive computer-generated creatures, courtesy of Weta Digital, hold their own against the human cast. George, in particular, feels tangible and real, in part thanks to motion capture artist Jason Liles, who helps lend the gorilla enough of a human characteristic necessary to support his relationship and banter with Johnson’s character.
Once Rampage gets going it moves at a breezy clip, and, save for a drag of mid-film exposition, doesn’t let up. That’s for the better, because there’s little in the way of twists or turns for the actual story of Rampage; it’s all about payoff. It’s not whether Chicago, the scene of the film’s biggest set piece, will be destroyed — but just how extravagantly it will be destroyed.
There are streaks of humor throughout all that city-crushing: It’s fun to watch a team of cocksure mercs get chewed up by a giant wolf and Naomie Harris’ character gets to poke fun at some of the onscreen machismo, though she’s mostly underutilized. There’s even an in-joke or two for Rampage (the video game) fans — Ralph the giant wolf gets his name from a bunch of “weirdos on the internet,” Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s character explain. And Malin Akerman’s Claire has a Rampage arcade machine in her office, which ultimately raises a couple questions: Did she name her company’s genetic science project “Rampage” after the video game? Did she get the arcade cabinet in recognition of Project Rampage? Is this just a coincidence in the name of inserting a reference to the classic Bally Midway game?
The best answer is most likely, “Don’t worry about it.” Rampage is a take-off-your-thinking-cap kind of movie, a surprisingly fun King Kong vs. Godzilla match up mutated through a video game filter. Though it required no less than four screenwriters to bring Rampage to the big screen, it’s not a particularly thoughtful or complex film. Instead, things blow up real nice, fall down real well and it’s got the Rock. Enjoy the ride.