Who knew our first scene in Rampage would be a mini-version of Gravity with a giant space rat? It’s a scene that sets you up for exactly what you’re about to see: big dumb animals in a big dumb movie. Directed by Brad Peyton (who seemingly specializes in directing Dwayne Johnson movies now), Rampage could easily fall apart and become forgotten popcorn fodder. But despite its silly video game premise, it manages to be very fun popcorn fodder.
Johnson stars as Davis Okoye, a primatologist who loves animals far more than human beings. “They get me,” he says in his oversized truck with the coolest sunglasses on, monstrous arm firmly in the foreground of the shot. His buddy George the albino silverback gorilla (as himself), loves pulling pranks on the new guys, gives a mean middle finger, and is a wonderful friend. But then that pesky space station’s science experiment happens to crash three canisters in the vicinity, and poor George gets to sniffing one of them. Now he’s all big, and a wolf and a crocodile are, too. Then the rampage starts.
This may sound like the start of the next Best Picture winner, but don’t be fooled: it’s all dumb. But the good kind of dumb. It’s a blast watching Joe Manganiello and usual suspect military-looking actors on the hunt. It’s fun watching Jeffrey Dean Morgan eat the scenery like he’s at a fine French restaurant and the meal’s on the house. It’s a joy watching setpieces that are so big and property damage-intensive it would take a small country’s GDP to rebuild. And Johnson wanting to knock out everyone he meets is a fun character trait. Naomie Harris plays a genetics engineer that helps Johnson, mostly there for exposition, but she does prove game for all of the crazy and in on the fun. Malin Akerman plays the evil Claire, the CEO of the company responsible for the compound substance, and Jake Lacy plays her less capable, sweaty Pop Tart aficionado brother. Their scenes are a drag for the most part, not up to much except being evil. But you’re not here for them; you’re here for the crazy.
And you’re in luck. It gets crazy. The movie is pretty violent, dispatching people in pretty impressive deaths. The action is snappy and well-directed, delivering the visual eye candy these types of action movies need. But it’s in the third act where things blow up in the biggest way imaginable. The three big monsters make their way to Chicago and take on the military, wreaking havoc (George even takes out a Dave and Buster’s!) and laying waste to anything in their path. The CG could have been messy and ugly, and sometimes it can be; but for the most part, it’s really great what is pulled off in that third act, as multiple city blocks and buildings collapse with the stars on top.
It runs the risk of becoming like the Michael Bay Transformers movies, going big and silly and sacrificing itself on such standards. But rather than do that, it stays witty and keeps to its own rules, never indulging in absolute shenanigans and juvenile humor when it knows it can rest easy on Johnson’s star power and riding that PG-13 line for its action and violence. It does have its corny jokes, but there’s at least some level of camaraderie and character behind them. It’s never to the point of lowbrow or unfortunate, as base level as most can be.
The main detriment of Rampage comes in the form of exposition. There’s never really a need in these sorts of movies for it, and it holds back the excitement for a while to do so. It only leads to nitpicking and making your audience restless but is a necessary evil to try and make it all connect. The good news is the mumbo-jumbo of the movie is simplified to the point where it’s next to impossible not to understand. You take all of the DNA of all the coolest animals and their special properties, you spice them all together, and you’ve got yourself a hell of a fighting machine. The evil villain plan that Akerman and Lacy are to expound upon in their dialogue is not great and dampens things, but they serve a purpose in the end, as nonsensical as it may be.
The thing about Rampage, though, is that it’s a lot of fun. Incredibly silly and sometimes full of ineptitude, sure. But it’s still a lot of fun. Now, all of this praise comes at a cost. I know it’s not a great movie. I know it in my heart. There will be some who say it’s stupid, or a CG fest, or meaningless. And perhaps they are right, in their own way. But for those looking for a big summer popcorn flick that doesn’t take much thinking, this has it all.