RAMPAGE is at its very best when it sticks to the basics, when it sets its creatures loose and lets them smash and fling their way through Chicago. And for the most part, that’s exactly what director Brad Peyton does. For a video game flick, this 2018 outing gets it mostly right and doesn’t spend too much time on exposition or building useless characters.
When it does stumble, it’s when it tries to give people a reason to care about anything beyond the gigantic gorilla, wolf and crocodile wreaking charming havoc. The movie wisely stars Dwayne Johnson as the lead, but he’s a little too charismatic for a human-hating primatologist.
Nevertheless, Johnson is Davis Okoye and he has a special relationship with an albino gorilla named George. One day, George gulps something that fell from space and starts to grow. He’s also getting mad. When he breaks out of his cage, the titular rampage begins. Along the way, it’s revealed that a crocodile and a wolf have also consumed the space junk. Party on.
There’s some expository stuff about a genetic manipulation company and it’s all very basic. Thank goodness. The by-committee screenplay doesn’t spend a lot of time fleshing out how this sci-fi nightmare came to pass and they even make the opening scene entertaining, what with a giant rat getting out on a space station.
Along the way, Okoye collects some companions. There’s Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), who used to work for the evil genetics company but is now seeking some sort of redemption. And there’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Harvey Russell, a mysterious government agent from some sort of mysterious government agency.
But really, we’re here for the damn monsters. And they do not disappoint, producing plenty of devastation. They rip, gnash and tear through Chicago and have a lot of fun doing it, excitedly tossing tanks around and crashing into everything in sight. Some mention is made of how many people have been able to escape so far and the only thing missing is a health bar for the city.
There’s even a bit of good old-fashioned graphic violence, although the lensing spares most of the details. Just offering a portion of the wolf’s forested annihilation allows Jaron Presant’s cinematography to sink its teeth in.
What more can you really say about RAMPAGE? This is the second throwback-style flick starring Johnson in 2018, with SKYSCRAPER offering its forthright take on the disaster/thriller genre and this one featuring a mass of monster magic. Both pictures feel like drive-in darlings, both pictures stay in their lane, both pictures amuse.
As far as missteps in RAMPAGE, there’s a splash of over-plotting. The villains, a brother and sister duo played by Jake Lacy and a wily Malin Akerman, don’t seem overly necessary. And Dr. Caldwell’s mid-game pep talk, in which she tries to convince Okoye that people are by-golly meaningful after all, is lame.
Overall, though, RAMPAGE is fun. It’s stupid, sure, and there’s a whole lot of destruction. But it’s a joyful, humble romp that doesn’t overstay its welcome, sticks to the finer points of monster horror and holds fast to the pizza-grease pleasure of the late-80s arcade game.