Fresh on the tail of Tomb Raider, Rampage arrives to demonstrate that there is no easy route to videogame movie success. Where Alicia Vikander’s vehicle attempted to ape the thematic success of its complicated source, Rampage aims to drop Dwayne Johnson into a situation as preposterously stupid as the arcade game it was “inspired” by. Its success is extremely limited.
The Rock plays Dr David Okoye, Primatologist and absurd hunk whose favourite albino gorilla (George) is one of three unfortunate animals infected by a weaponised virus falling form orbit. It was up there on the orders of the intensely limited Malin Akerman and Jack Lacy, evil suits. Re-entry is forced in an opening scene that demonstrates how little tension Alien would have managed if its monster was an oversized rat in zero gravity, and Rampage only gets dumber from there, surprisingly.
As the three affected animals, gorilla, wolf and alligator, converge on downtown Chicago for fundamentally stupid reasons, they grow steadily larger and more aggressive, leading the military to rightly decide to terminate them. But Dr Okoye won’t allow that, damn it. George is a primate that’s killed literally dozens of people, and by the end has fully eaten at least one, but he’s innocent. He deserves a second chance.
Rampage‘s logic is ridiculous and inconsistent, but what is equally noticeable throughout is its bizarre propensity for gore. This is a strong 12A, with countless onscreen deaths and a confusing focus on wounds and corpses. One sequence in the jungle, riffing on Predator as woefully as Alien before it, features a shot of mangled bodies that would grace far more mature and thoughtful films. Instead, it will just ruin the psyches of a few pre-teens, doubtless. When a packed ferry of evacuating civilians is casually overturned later on, featuring distant screams and individually visible flailing victims, the absurdity of this film’s violence is compounded.
In fairness, Rampage is more realistic in its aspirations than many action films. It limits itself to maddeningly simplistic plotting, and a series of predictable and plottable set-pieces, and those moments are workmanlike. They offer decent clarity of action and occasionally chuckle-worthy quips. The film’s opening, however, is deadeningly slow to get to these inevitable showpieces, a curious sin in a film that surely is aware of its own strengths.
Unfortunately even its ‘big animals fighting’ USP can only last so long, and Rampage‘s closing barrages are simply boring. Exposition is always a massive risk, but to steadfastly refuse to explain why a growth toxin makes three animals grow at radically different rates, let alone why in one of the three it also brings about cross-species mutations, is outrageous. You can’t show audiences churned mercenary corpses one scene, and later expect them to be guffawing into their popcorn when a giant wolf has grown sugar glider wings for no apparent reason.
For all the reviews arguing that Rampage‘s silliness makes it enjoyable, its eye for violence and gore is alienating. A film that is cartoonishly simple in many ways drowns in its own tonal conflicts.