Rampage is the latest movie based off of a video game and also the latest big-budget Kaiju film. It was less than a month ago we got Pacific Rim: Uprising, and then the month before that we Cloverfield Paradox (which more or less just ties in with a Kaiju film). This is also a little over a year since the last giant ape movie Kong: Skull Island. We sure are getting a lot of these, aren’t we?
For this monster movie fan, I couldn’t be happier about that. It is like the genre is getting another shot in the arm since the days of Willis O’Brien, Ray Harryhausen, and Toho Studios. Although you could argue that this latest string doesn’t have the same love and attention that O’Brien and Harryhausen brought to the table, the new string of visual effects studios is doing very impressive work with the modern monsters.
Rampage follows primatologist Davis Okoye played by movie star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. He shares a bond with a rare gorilla named George. But after an illegal science experiment comes into contact with the animal, George’s genetic makeup is changed and he begins to grow into a giant ape. Two other animals are affected and the evil corporation, run by a group of siblings (played by Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy), behind the experiment sees an opportunity to make a lot of money and avoid jail time by luring them all to the city of Chicago where they will all fight. Davis will stop at nothing to find George and bring him back safely.
I am the target audience for this movie. I like monster movies, I like Kaiju films, and I like The Rock. This isn’t a movie you’re supposed to take too seriously, and the filmmakers clearly know that. I dragged my friend to go see this with me and was ready for some monster mayhem. However, I didn’t get what I was looking for. Oh, there was monster action, but I never got the smile on my face that I so craved. Movies like Rampage should make me feel like a little kid again, but Rampage just had me uninterested and shrugging my shoulders. This is a bland monster movie that only does the bare minimum to get by (which would be fine if the bare minimum wasn’t so bland). If Tomb Raider was the video game movie genre showing signs of improvement, then Rampage takes us back a few steps.
I have to start with a simple question: why do monster movies need human beings? It seems to me that a lot of monster movies struggle to find anything interesting for them to do. The great movies are typically remembered for their monsters, not their human characters. There are some exceptions like King Kong, Gojira, and (if you allow this to count) Jaws. Too often we get stuck watching human characters fulfilling some subplot that we don’t care about with some other human character that we need to be the villain for some reason. Aren’t the monsters enough?
So much screen time in the third act is devoted to Dwayne Johnson and Naomie Harris dealing with the human villains that I kept wondering when are we going to see the monsters fight again? The villains are so weak and Harris isn’t that interesting either, leaving just The Rock trying to elevate the movie through charisma alone. Even the Rock can’t save these scenes; they drag and feel never-ending.
Then once we get to the monster fight sequences they don’t do much to salvage the movie. There isn’t anything special or even very entertaining about them. This feels every bit like Rampage is going through the motions. There is barely a moment where after the movie I could be like a 6-year-old kid again and go, “oh and remember this part? That was so cool!!!”
When Peter Jackson directed his King Kong remake, you could see his love of the property on screen because the action scenes were so well thought out and creative. The fight between Kong and the T-Rexes is so much fun to watch because Jackson keeps escalating the scene, finding fun ways to the keep the fight interesting (whether that be a melee or dangling in vines) and moving to different locations. Rampage doesn’t have a single moment like that. One of the creatures get disposed of quickly and the fight between George and the remaining monster becomes too much of “the Dwayne Johnson show”. Pacific Rim also doesn’t have strong human characters but the fight scenes are so creative and strong that it makes the entire movie worth seeing. Del Toro knew how to craft a memorable and exciting fight sequence. Brad Peyton just doesn’t seem to have fun as a director, and I wish he would indulge himself more. Even his last disaster movie, San Andres, didn’t seem to know how to craft memorable Ronald Emmerich style destruction scenes. The last ten minutes of Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla remake is far more memorable, exciting and thrilling than anything presented in Rampage.
Rampage knows what it is, but doesn’t embrace what it is. A movie like Rampage knows it’s not going to win Oscars because it is a massive Kaiju film based on a video game where three animals become supersized and destroy Chicago. No one started this movie expecting to be looked at as some sort of high art piece, and that’s not what I wanted either. But I have to ask: where is the creativity? Where is the big action scenes that you can’t help but gush about? Where is the passion for the material? Rampage is as formulaic as it gets, but it doesn’t seem to have any fun with the formula. Rampage should be crazy wild stupid fun but as it is, it’s just stupid without any of the fun.