We all have our guilty pleasures. As long as they’re fun, they can be as mindless, over-the-top, and hilariously absurd as they want. Most of Dwayne Johnson’s cinematic career has consisted of guilty pleasures, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Sadly, ‘Rampage’ is a joyless ride that’s just plain stupid.
The age of star power is dead, which is what makes The Rock such an intriguing actor. If anyone else took the starring roles from his so-bad-they’re-good catalog, those movies wouldn’t be the big hits they are. Tom Cruise, who used to be among the biggest stars in Hollywood, can’t draw much of an audience anymore. The pairing of Jennifer Lawerence and Chris Pratt – two of the hottest actors around – couldn’t get the over-priced ‘Passengers’ out of the red. I don’t know what The Rock is cooking to remain this successful, but it surely smells great to those who can land him. To the advantage of Warner Bros., if any actor could make this ridiculous ‘Rampage’ movie a hit, it’s him.
In 30 years, cinema history books are going to name our current period the Era of Nostalgia. Original content rarely thrives right now, which is why there are so many sequels, prequels, reboots, remakes and adaptations of once-popular intellectual properties. Even new original content is filled with so many pop culture references that it sneaks into the same playing field as existing IP. (See: ‘Ready Player One’.) We’re coming to the point where there’s little nostalgic content that can be remade, which is why there have been three iterations of Spider-Man over the last 15 years (four if you count the new animated version headed to cinemas this Christmas). It’s especially obvious when you notice that Warner Bros. opted to adapt the 2D, 8-bit video game ‘Rampage’ for the silver screen. I have to believe that without The Rock, it wouldn’t stand a chance of being a success; however the combination of Dwayne Johnson and nostalgia might be the closest thing we ever find to alchemy.
Johnson leads ‘Rampage’ as Davis Okoye, a primatologist at a San Diego animal refuge with a less-interesting name than Smolder Bravestone. While tasked by the military to target poachers in Africa (I didn’t know the U.S. government was in charge of that), he found an orphaned rare albino gorilla that he decided to take back to the States, name George, and raise in the park. Thanks to the nurturing from Davis and the ability to communicate with humans through sign language, George is the most humanized gorilla you’ve ever seen on-screen.
The plot is driven by an evil corporation, the head of which is played by Malin Akerman. Her company’s genetic modification experiments are so illegal and dangerous that they’re conducted on a private space station. Samples of her latest maniacal concoction fall from the space station, survive re-entry, crash land next to three animals, and finally discharge their poisons right when the creatures get too close to them. George, a Wyoming wolf, and a Florida alligator become infected with the gas that ultimately acts like a combo of the rage virus from ’28 Days Later’ and the science that turned Bruce Banner into The Hulk. Akerman’s CEO character wants her children to come to momma, so she emits a special frequency from the roof of her Chicago skyscraper that acts like the world’s most powerful dog whistle. Paths of destruction are left by all three.
Although he’s just as charismatic as the actor playing him, Davis is supposedly not a people person. George is his best friend, so Davis follows George across the country with a random cute scientist that he meets along the way (Naomie Harris). Trying to block their every move is an agent from a black-ops government agency. As that character, Jeffrey Dean Morgan basically plays a family-friendly version of his notorious scenery-chomper from ‘The Walking Dead’.
‘Rampage’ is what I call a spectator movie. By that, I mean that it’s not at all engaging. Audience members will simply sit there with blank stares on their faces. It never gets your heart racing. It’s like watching your friend play a video game. Instead of being the one doing the action, you’re simple a third-party who’s not affected by anything happening. Let me give you an example.
Throughout the movie, there are huge set-pieces that offer plenty of action and no excitement. The reason these sequences are not exciting is because of how they’re presented. We watch our main characters fall into insane predicaments, but we never get a feel for what it would be like to be in their place. If you know the game at all, it will come as no surprise that the three monsters knock down buildings throughout the movie. At one point, we’re with a few characters atop one of the buildings as it collapses. Instead of getting a single shot from their perspectives, which might give us a sense of what it would be like on the roof of a crumbling building, we’re bombarded over and over again with reaction shots of the characters in peril. Despite the many grand set-pieces, ‘Rampage’ doesn’t evoke a single emotional reaction.
With action scenes that aren’t tense or fun, it makes the talky scenes even worse. The writers attempt to inject the screenplay with humor, but nearly every attempt falls flat, making this the worst variety of brain-dead tentpole movie.
I went into ‘Rampage’ expecting two things: a big, loud and stupid action movie that left a constant smile on my face, and a bunch of huge animals knocking down buildings. I got the second one, but the lack of the first left the whole experience feel vapid. Warner Bros. had a potential formula for success with ‘Rampage’. While the film is likely to earn several hundred million dollars at the worldwide box office, it certainly doesn’t deserve to.