I really want to like just one of these big studio monster movies. The appeal of watching massive hunks of CGI crash their big old bodies into each other while buildings crumble beneath them is far from lost on me. A shame then that Warner Brothers seems intent on making the same lame creature feature over and over again. Half baked stews of bland human characters, indecisive tonal choices and monsters that lack any personality, Rampage initially seemed like a hopeful prospect. If anyone could deliver on such a silly premise, it would be Dwayne Johnson’s monumental charisma. Unfortunately, the movie he and director Brad Peyton (San Andreas) made crumbles under the weight of its generic execution, along with a skyscraper or two.
There’s a shocking lack of self deprecation here for a film with such a boastful title. Peyton jarringly shifts the tone from scene to scene, never allowing us to find a groove with it. One moment, we’re asked to genuinely buy into the relationship between Johnson’s primatologist and his gentle giant Gorilla pal named George. The next, we’re given absurd cartoon characters like Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s down home country boy FBI agent or Malin Akerman’s sneering cooperate villain. This tonal whiplash pulls us completely out of the early goings, where we’re supposed to be frightened of the monsters. I’d say that we’re expecting somebody to crack a joke, but that would be giving too much credit to the abysmal quips the four writers scraped together.
The pacing is a joke, particularly in the second act. There is an eternal amount of time spent with humorless military dolts who would lose out as extras in a Michael Bay movie. They stare at monitors, posture about how dangerous the monsters are, talk about what bombs they’re going to drop. There’s even a fifteen minute detour with Joe Manganiello and his Ghost Prime Squad of mercenaries unsuccessfully fighting the wolf creatures. We know they’re going to die, because the commander has to stare into the monitor and say “my…god,” before Dwayne shows up to help. It’s mathematically impossible to care.
Johnson is nothing if not a good sport and he gives this role every ounce of his earnest charm. However, that charm only fires on all cylinders when he has really strong support to play off of and there is absolutely none here. He finds himself partnered up with Naomie Harris’ rouge scientist for most of the movie, a partnership that goes nowhere. Harris has proven time and time again that she is a powerful talent, but she’s given such a route character here that she has nothing to inject life into.
With all of that said, I would be remiss to not give due credit to the titular showdown itself. When the monsters start running amuck in downtown Chicago, this movie comes alive in a big way. Peyton gleefully captures the iconic images from the Rampage video game while escalating them into prime blockbuster set pieces. This sequence basks in the absurdity of having a giant crocodile climb up buildings while a flying wolf glides through them. Johnson clearly has a blast with this sort of thing and completely throws himself into his final battle with the creatures. If this were a better, more self aware film, this climax would be worth the price of admission alone.
Rampage just might be the most blasé monster movie you could ever sit through. Even the fun moments that feel pulled right out of a video game are entirely hallow, because you don’t care about the people involved in them. I truly believe that the route to go with these is to make a full-on, devil may care comedy out of it. Keep it at ninety minutes, go totally nuts with the destruction and make me laugh. Hell, just make me feel something. That’d be a start.