It was an early morning Tuesday. A friend was graduating from the Police Academy at 9 am. and I, along with another friend, had stayed up the previous night. We had arrived there in support, yet in those weary morning hours, while sitting in that cacophonous auditorium, as the sound bounced from silence to exuberant cheers, watching as the freshly primed officers rolled on by, a notification came across my phone: an invitation to see Rampage later that day. Bleary-eyed and in a sleepless delirium, I clicked “yes.”
I clicked “yes” to watch Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and an albino gorilla wreak havoc across downtown Chicago. It was stupid. It was cringrey. It was bloated and crass. But god damn if it wasn’t fun.
I mean that. Rampage is part Arnold Schwarzenegger dumb action flick throwback and part buddy comedy. It’s the type of fun nonsensical summer Blockbuster that’s sometimes needed to cleanse the palette, especially in a 2018 filled with films like A Quiet Place, Annihilation, and Thoroughbreds. All fine films, but all heavier than George the albino gorilla.
The film opens with three canisters, filled with an experimental drug, falling from an exploding space station. The canisters land in separate locations, from a forest, to a swamp, to the San Diego Zoo where George the albino gorilla lives. It’s also where David Okoye (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), Primatologist and ex-special forces scientist trained in ASL, works. Personally, I could complain about the idiocy of Johnson playing a scientist with a Nigerian name. I could scratch my head at how an ex-special forces soldier is also a Primatologist, or why someone hasn’t asked him why he’s so massive, but I came to a movie called Rampage. Whatever hill I could died on, I left long ago.
The chemical which infects George is a super serum, growing and mutating animals to become advanced creatures, developed by a shadow company run by Claire (Malin Akerman) and Brett Wyden (Jake Lacy). Claire and Brett are the best combination of pure profit and bro-level stupidity. And their cartoonish caricatures are a highlight of the film.
In fact, most movies die because of their central two-dimensional characters. Rampage literally thrives on it. From the “we always have a bigger bomb” military, to the sly talking secret agent played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, all of these halfwit characters bring a comedic flair, especially Morgan’s, who’s never without a witty comeback or a quote from his ole’ grandpappy, because “us assholes have to stick together.”
That we do grandpappy. That we do.
Yet, between massive explosions and rampant destruction, it’s the buddy relationship between Johnson and his gorilla that’s obviously at the center. Most of the time, their back-and-forth jokes fall somewhere in between obnoxious and crude, at one point George makes a sexual gesture towards Johnson and Naomie Harris‘s Dr. Kate Caldwell with the use of his finger and a circle. I’ll let you picture the rest.
Nevertheless, Rampage ultimately delivers on everything it promises itself to be. It’s a highly self-aware action flick, resting on close-ups of Johnson jumping into helicopters firing bullets larger than your fist (is it in his contract to fly a helicopter in every film?), to Johnson making self-deprecating jokes about his size, to every crash through a window scene you can think of. However, there is some craft. The visual effects, barring the killer monster rat (I can’t believe I just typed that description), are incredibly solid. And the re-creation of Chicago, specifically in the final battle and destruction scene, which caused a hush mood in the Chicago theater I sat in, is superbly accurate.
By the conclusion of Rampage, we’re reminded that Johnson is one of the hottest stars for a reason. He really has a magnetism and a genuine personality that makes him perfect for the action genre. It’s a role he’s happily embraced, as we’ve done the same towards him.
Once again, am I saying that Rampage is an amazing film? No. But it knows what it wants to be, and accomplishes it. And, if you’re going into Rampage expecting anything more, then you’re probably a prude. Because in the end, if the worst you get coming out of the theater is a dumb enjoyable film that purports itself to be a dumb enjoyable film, then what else can you do except turn off your brain and become your inner albino gorilla?