Primatologist and former soldier Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) looks after and is good friends with George, an intelligent albino gorilla at San Diego Wildlife Sanctuary. After a mysterious gas gives George a serious growth spurt and makes him very aggressive, Davis must protect his friend and keep him out of trouble. Meanwhile, the same gas has infected a grey wolf named Ralph and a crocodile called Lizzie. Naturally, the three beasts band together and head for Chicago. The Rock faces his biggest challenge since Hulk Hogan.
Loosely based on the video game series of the same name, Rampage is the third collaboration between Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and director Brad Peyton. Therein lies the film’s main problem. After Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and the 2015 disaster film (in more ways than one) San Andreas, Peyton has proven himself as a bland and uninventive director. Not even Rampage’s ludicrous premise can stop the Canadian from delivering another standard Dwayne Johnson action vehicle that has all the bells and whistles but not much else.
The action is handled competently and is sporadically entertaining. It does, however, squander the potential that lies within a face off between a thirty-foot wolf, a gigantic gorilla, a crocodile that would eat the shark from Jaws like a piece of sushi, and the Herculean Johnson. None of the set pieces will live long in the memory, nor does the destruction offer anything we haven’t seen before, which is criminal considering the film literally pits a WWE wrestler against a mutant crocodile.
However, the film boasts an impressive cast. Jeffrey Dean Morgan steals the show as a shady government agent. He embraces the film’s lunacy and shares good chemistry with Johnson. In a piece of casting that makes you think, ‘what the hell is she doing in this?’, Oscar nominated Moonlight star Naomie Harris plays Dr. Caldwell. Despite being lumbered with an entirely unnecessary American accent, Harris brings a thespian quality to the film and, fortunately, is not relegated to the damsel in distress role.
A special mention must go to Jason Liles, who gives an excellent motion-capture performance as George. The gorilla is brought to life superbly by Liles’ acting and the film’s special effects crew. His relationship with Davis feels genuine, which provides several humorous and touching moments.
Dire writing does not help Rampage's cause. While a monster movie doesn’t require an Oscar worthy script, Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, and Adam Sztykiel’s (that’s right, it took four people to write this) screenplay is loaded with laughable, but not funny, dialogue. The film’s corporate villains, played by Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy, suffer most from this. Their motivation has nothing more to it than money and the two actors struggle to make their lines sound threatening in any way.
With his limitless charisma and hulking frame, Johnson is this generation’s answer to Arnold Schwarzenegger, just without the iconic filmography. While the cinematic landscape is dominated by franchises, he is seemingly the only star in Hollywood whose name alone can command a blockbuster budget. Unfortunately, The Rock is yet to put this influence to good use.
Whereas Arnie worked frequently with James Cameron and delivered action classics such as The Terminator, its sequel, and True Lies, Johnson seems intent on cooking up forgettable, production line B movies (he and Peyton will reunite for San Andreas 2). Only the Fast & Furious series, particularly F. Gary Gray’s latest instalment, seem to use Johnson’s talents to their full potential and hit the sweet spot of enjoyable, but mindless action films. Here’s hoping that 2019’s Hobbs & Shaw, a spin off built around Johnson and Jason Statham’s characters, provides us with an enduring piece of action cinema.
Rampage is a bombastic and enjoyable blockbuster but is let down by a woeful script and Peyton’s by the numbers direction. It’s about time that Johnson uses his star power and box office draw to make something memorable, or at least of good quality.