Rampage Review: A passable popcorn monster film devoid of novelty
A monster reptile, a vicious wolf, and a hapless ape go on an evil rampage that Dwayne Johnson is tasked with stopping.
Okay, the film’s titled Rampage, and it stars Dwayne Johnson. You can immediately surmise that the film is about one of two things: Dwayne Johnson going on a rampage against evil, or someone/something going on an evil rampage that Dwayne Johnson is tasked with stopping. The actor plays Davis, a primatologist and the head of an anti-poaching unit in the film. He’s an animal lover, a misanthrope, and a bit of a softie. And so, he’s not really unleashing mayhem, as much as he’s trying to control it. The source of the mayhem itself isn’t particularly novel, and the events are pretty much standard fare in such monster disaster films. The man-animal bond preceding the animal going rogue is a bit of Planet of the Apes. The ape going ballistic on the city is a bit of King Kong. The reptilian mayhem is a bit of Godzilla. It’s a mumbo-jumbo of ideas you’ve seen and seen again in such films.
Director: Brad Peyton
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman
There’s more than one malicious creature in this film though, and the allocation of evil seems drawn from our instinctive empathy to each of them. It is a general rule observed in most films: Human>dog>reptile. And so, in Rampage, the monster reptile is the biggest villain in the film, followed by the vicious wolf and finally, the hapless ape. I suspect though that unlike as shown in the film, someone who loves animals as much as Davis would be quite sympathetic to the plight of the wolf and the crocodile as well. But that sort of sensitivity is asking a bit too much from a film like this. On some level, even his character seems to be aware of the liberties taken in the narrative. The wolf, affected by an experimental gas, begins flying, and an exasperated Davis wryly notes, “Of course, it can fly.” In addition to the flying wolf, you have a crocodile that scales skyscrapers and an ape with a distinct hatred for the edifices of Chicago.
It’s the sort of film that could have been all the better for stronger villains, instead of the silly buffoons that the Wyden siblings (Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy) are. I know it’s hard to pose a threat to Dwayne Johnson in these films, but still, it would have been nice to have the villains at least try. Even when one of them unexpectedly puts a bullet in him, they’ve apparently missed “all the important organs”, in the words of Davis himself.
But the writers probably couldn’t be bothered about the hero-villains conflict, given that the real conflict of the story is the one between Davis, and George, the albino silverback gorilla with a twisted sense of humor. They share a special friendship, one deeper than any Davis has had with any human. The question isn’t just, can Davis save George; there’s a constant back-and-forth between them about who’s the real saviour. The dynamics of their relationship is rather enjoyable, but then again, I’ve always had a weakness for animal-human bonds.
The general quality of VFX we’ve come to see in such Hollywood films means that the work seems normal fare in Rampage. I suppose it’s almost unfair to the film that visuals like edifices falling, people getting flung from great heights, missiles exploding in the faces of giant creatures… feel pretty standard. The only redeeming aspect of the film for me — and one that I quite was invested in — is the Davis-George relationship. In fact, I walked out of the theatre thinking I’d pay to watch a spin-off, in which this tag-team brings baddies to justice. We could call their strategy gorilla warfare. No? Okay, I’ll let myself out.