From the Archives: Rampage review

From the Archives: Rampage review

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.

Originally posted on Cinema76.

The other day I went to a movie that had four trailers in front of it. Three of these trailers starred Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Two of these trailers looked good. All I could think to myself is “does this guy ever go home?” The sheer volume of work he puts out while maintaining an almost inhuman physique feels impossible. And if you look at his upcoming slate of work it appears that he’s only going to get busier. We can reasonably assume that he’s only going to get bigger as well. Seriously, look at Fast FiveThe Rock compared to present day The Rock. He has tripled in size.

One of the trailers was for Rampage, the big screen adaptation of everyone’s favorite high concept arcade game that actually isn’t that much fun to play. Now that I’ve seen the movie, one of the tricks that The Rock uses to squeeze movies into his schedule has become painfully clear: He doesn’t actually have to be on set for very long. What I mean is that almost all of Rampage is created in a computer, with a handful of “walk-sposition” scenes to tie it all together. For the most part The Rock has to show up, be The Rock, and then let the movie be built around him.

Please don’t read this as me discounting the man’s myriad talents (I adore him in ways that words will certainly fail to capture), but when you have a basic concept of how movies are made, it’s easy to see exactly where this one is stitched together. Then again, if there is someone on this planet who is better than The Rock at gesturing/flexing/issuing commands in front of a green screen, I certainly haven’t seen him/her. Yeah, there are a lot of people who can do it reasonably well nowadays, as that’s how even the least CG heavy movies are made, but it takes someone like our future president to make something like Rampage – something so expressly pretend – and make it feel tangible. Even when it’s clear that our hero is interacting with nothing, the man simply sells it. It’s an odd skill set to isolate, but it’s one that he does best.

People who remember the video game that Rampage is based on know the basics. For the rest of you, it goes a little something like this: You can play as any of three giant monsters – a Godzilla-inspired dragon, a King Kong-inspired ape, or an inspired-by-nothing giant wolf. You then proceed to destroy skyscrapers with brute strength. The prime directive is to destroy as much as possible while staying alive. It’s fun at first, then it becomes repetitive, then it becomes difficult as hordes of tiny army men try to bring you down.

Rampage the movie is the story of these annoying little army men.

It sounds like I’m talking smack, but I assure you I am not. As far as cinematic adaptations of video games go, Rampage is one of the better ones. It is required that you check your brain at the door, and the film clearly knows this. The script knows it. The actors know it. Even the crack squad of digital effects artists seem to know this. Basically, if anyone goes into Rampage expecting anything but what is delivered, they might need help.

The Rock plays Davis Okoye, a primatologist who used to be in the military but has seen so many crazy things that he prefers the company of animals over people. His best friend is an albino gorilla name George. One day, three canisters of genetic sciencey junk fall to Earth from a hidden research lab in space. One lands near a wolf, one lands near an alligator, and one lands near George. The chemical released from the canister causes all three to grow into angry giants, which naturally catches the attention of the US military, specifically a genetics branch led by Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Harvey and Davis don’t get along very well, and their constant posturing is probably the film’s biggest delight. You see, Harvey is a bit of a cowboy, and he doesn’t mind rubbing folks the wrong way if it gets the job done. And Davis, as previously mentioned, doesn’t really care for people. So they get in each others’ faces and say catty things and it’s pretty great.

Meanwhile, the evil duo behind the Rampage chemicals – yes that’s really what they are called in the movie – have activated a radio signal to draw the monsters to their lab. I’m pretty sure that their plan is to draw the beasts in, inject them with an antidote, and then, um… uhhh…. profit? I don’t know. It’s not clear. What is clear is that their lab features a Rampage arcade cabinet, which means that they named these chemicals after the game, and it’s just a coincidence that their chemical did in fact accidentally fall into the paws/claws of the EXACT same animals from the game. It’s mighty stupid, but I love it. Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy play this evil duo with a devilish charisma, which is incredible considering they are tasked with almost all of the required “walk-sposition” and must do it from a single room.

The effects are generally clean, especially given the low bar set by the source material. These creatures needn’t look real because they aren’t supposed to be real. Even so, they function fluidly within the realm of the film, and as I said before, The Rock can interact with literally nothing and turn it into slam-bang entertainment. The relationship between him and George is pretty well-conceived and often quite moving. Even with cartoonish effects, it plays. But what we’re really here for is the kaiju action, and there is plenty. People get eaten, buildings and cars get smashed, and eventually the creatures throw down against one another. Ticket price validated.

Let’s be honest, you already know if you are going to see Rampage, and if you were planning to do so, you will like it. If you aren’t planning to do so, you wouldn’t have liked it anyway.

Rampage opens in Philly theaters today.

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