Imagine Jurassic World, except instead of one giant mutant dinosaur there are three giant mutant animal hybrids, and instead of that lone dino-monster terrorizing a theme park the three mutant animals are terrorizing Chicago, and also imagine if Jurassic World was both dumber and more fun—that’s Rampage. It owes a LOT to Jurassic Park/Jurassic World, and to monster movies like King Kong and Godzilla. And Rampage knows it’s basically just a monster-movie mash-up loosely based on an old video game, so it never gets ahead of itself or pretends to be more than it is, and in so doing, it manages to be a fun, if forgettable, couple of hours.
Dwayne Johnson stars as Davis Okoye, a primatologist apparently running the primate sanctuary at the San Diego Zoo, but yet he is unsaddled with a “Doctor” or any educational grounding. His entire career seems to be based on his history of being in the Army Special Forces and then one time he saved a baby gorilla from poachers. This is a thing that happens rather a lot in action cinema—characters who are scientists yet do not emphasize their science knowledge at all, but instead highlight their action prowess and macho accolades. Consider Geostorm casting Gerard Butler as a scientist capable of solving global warming but the only science-y thing we see him do is fix an engine, or any lead character in a Michael Bay movie, and Peter Berg’s tendency to feature gruff alpha males shoving nerds out of their way in order to save the world. This used to be funny—Armageddon is legendary for this—but these days, with America’s anti-intellectual streak actively making the entire world worse, it’s getting harder and harder to tolerate this trend.
Anyway, Rampage is SUPER dumb which is why I had time to ruminate on the action movie tendency to demean scientists and any character with an intellectual background. Watching Rampage requires the same amount of mental bandwidth as, say, vacuuming—you basically just have to stay awake and let sensory input guide you. It’s not a bad movie, per se, it is at least fun while it’s happening to you—but definitely not as fun as The Rock’s other recent game movie, Jumanji. Johnson has gotten really good at saying extremely stupid dialogue in just the right tone to pass it off in the moment, and that carries most of Rampage. Naomie Harris is there as the properly titled “doctor”, which means she’s just spouting exposition the whole time, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan does Negan Lite as Agent Russell, the guy who starts out a baddie then turns good because the real villains were Malin Ackerman and Jake Lacey, who both meet really horrible ends.
Cartoonish movie villains often meet cartoonish fates in movies, but Rampage takes it to a level that is absurd and, frankly, disturbing given the number of small children in the audience. Rampage gets graphic at the oddest times, with several deaths that are just awful—not necessarily bloody, although Jake Lacey inspires a splat, but just really…hideous. I don’t know how to describe it except to imagine a Wile E. Coyote cartoon except at the last second Wile E. Coyote turns into a real human being, and then goes splat. It’s an odd choice for what otherwise feels like a family film. (It also calls back to Jurassic World’s over the top secretary death.)
But the parts where The Rock and a giant gorilla are friends is fun, and there is a strong anti-poaching message which is much appreciated. And Chicago gets destroyed for the hundredth time on film (I get it—cool architecture, great skyline, urban river canyon, it’s a very cinematic city, but can we not raze my office building yet again, I have to work there and not imagine dying in a monster attack). It’s stupid, and you won’t remember it, but Rampage really commits to its own idiocy, which makes it more fun than a Transformers movie. Someday you’ll come across Rampage on demand and you won’t hate watching it.