By Jack Beck ’18
“Rampage” is a real head-scratcher. Either it’s the dumbest movie I’ve seen in a while, or it’s secretly a work of genius. Or, I guess, why not both?
Based on an arcade game from the 1980s that was later ported over to home video game systems, “Rampage” stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a primatologist at the San Diego Wildlife Sanctuary. He finds himself trying to save the world when his best buddy, an ape named George, gets infected by a fast moving disease that turns him into an enormous, rage-filled, killing machine.
It’s also a blindingly predictable production of an action movie – absolutely nothing happens here that you haven’t seen in a movie before, with the possible exception of some crass sign language humor from a giant gorilla. To the extent “Rampage” succeeds, it does so specifically because it knows it doesn’t have a single original thought in its head, and it’s not even going to try and convince you otherwise. It’s a movie about smashing objects and objects getting smashed. Oh, and it also has The Rock.
This results in a movie synopsis that seems like something most people would cook if they were asked to sketch out a generic action movie plot in 20 minutes. In the prelude, a research spacecraft transporting some kind of huge fierce creature blows up, but not before a scientist on board escapes in a pod with the “samples.” Then her pod blows up, and the samples survive and land on Earth – one in Wyoming, one in the Everglades and one in the San Diego Wildlife Sanctuary. That is where good-natured George the gorilla stumbles across it.
The research has to do with genetic modification, and it is, of course, both kind of illegal and being conducted by a Big Bad Corporation headed by a sibling pair.
Meanwhile, Davis Okoye (Johnson), the primatologist who raised George from birth, finds that his friendly, funny gorilla friend has been subsumed by a raging monster. The movie centers on his quest to keep George safe, which leads to him teaming up with a scientist named Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris). This leads to a sardonic government operative named Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who delivers quips with a drawl.
And so, yes, this movie has it all: greedy corporate villain, smart scientist, strong and sensitive hero, big monsters, impending destruction and a very modest message. The message is not pushed too hard, suggesting that it’s humans who are the real animals.
That’s not exactly a strike against it. Action movies like this are meant to be explosive and loud and cathartic, and maybe a little funny. Sure, “Rampage” has some plot holes, but it definitely doesn’t care, and I really don’t need to either. This is a movie based on an arcade game; the goal is to get to the big fight.
Most importantly, “Rampage” has Dwayne Johnson, one of the few remaining movie stars who can draw audiences to a sub par movie just because he’s in it. The best parts of “Rampage” are his scenes with George, which are genuinely funny; the gorilla has an excellent sense of humor. The pair’s chemistry is also great, and the movie’s only truly touching moments result from their relationship.
It is, by all appearances, not a movie with high aspirations, and that’s why it’s pretty fun. But it’s hard not to wonder, just a little, if “Rampage” is secretly much smarter than it pretends to be.
I give this movie a 7.5/10.