Scotty G Braves Gorillas, Wolves, and Crocodiles in ‘Rampage’

Is it possible for a movie based on a video game to be good?  It is a question that always gets bandied about when a film is based on a beloved game title and the answer always seems to be a resounding no.  Unfortunately, Rampage continues that trend.

Rampage stars Dwayne Johnson, who once again teams up with Canadian director Brad Peyton (the pair having previously worked together on Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and San Andreas).  The basic plot of the film is that three canisters from space crash land on Earth, causing three animals from across the U.S. to be exposed to a pathogen. A wolf in Wyoming, a crocodile in the Florida Everglades and an albino gorilla named George at a San Diego sanctuary are the animals that are infected.  The animals become bigger, faster, better and stronger as the gas is made up of DNA from other animals so they mutate and have traits and characteristics of those other species.  I’ll give the screenwriters some credit for originality, as I don’t think that I have ever seen a wolf fly until watching this film.  George has a bond with a primatologist played by Johnson, as they communicate via sign language. Johnson’s character knows something is wrong with his friend when he shows up to work one day to find out that George killed a grizzly bear in the sanctuary.  Along the way, Johnson teams up with Naomie Harris (best known for playing Eve Moneypenny from the Daniel Craig James Bond films), who knows more about the pathogen then she first leads on.  They have to battle an evil corporation that is run by Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy, and a shady government operative played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan.  The events of the film lead everyone to the city of Chicago where the animals try to take out a tower that emits a signal they want out of their heads.  When a film is named Rampage, you expect to see a lot of destruction and violence and in that regard, the film doesn’t disappoint.  The question that most people want to know is whether or not the film is worth seeing.  Here are my thoughts:

The Good

Jeffrey Dean Morgan is outstanding in this film.  Every time he is on screen, he just seems to be having a blast as a government spook from an unknown agency who talks with a big southern drawl.  He has such a commanding presence on the screen and his character is smart.  There is a great sequence on a plane where Morgan is talking to Johnson and Harris about the background of Harris’ character that I just found myself hanging off every word that was being said.  You never quite know in the first two acts whether or not he is a good guy or a bad guy and that is half the fun.  I wish the screenwriters made the other characters as smart as Morgan’s.

The Bad

If a supporting character is the highlight of the film, then that is not a good thing, but I don’t blame Johnson for this at all.  He is charming and charismatic as always (although maybe a bit muted from what I am used to seeing from him), but he’s not given a lot to work with in the film and for that I blame the writers.   It took four writers to come up with a script for the film and I will be up front and say that I generally don’t like the idea of having multiple writers working on a script because the distinct voice of a writer gets lost.  I honestly feel that is what happened in Rampage. There are some sequences that are fun and lighthearted (usually involving Johnson and George) but there are other scenes that are quite violent and dark (most notably the opening act in space and a sequence about 30 minutes in when a black ops crew lead by Joe Manganiello try to capture the wolf).  The back and forth of light and dark moments didn’t quite work tonally as I was never sure what the film wanted to be. Finding a balance is always a tough assignment and I never felt that the writers achieved their goal of having a fun action movie.  Also, there are some sign language jokes that I felt were just lazy bits of writing because they were crass.

The Ugly

I am a fan of Malin Akerman.  I thought she was fantastic in Watchmen.  The unfortunate part for her is that her Watchmen co-star Jeffrey Dean Morgan got the great part in the film and Malin, along with Jake Lacy got saddled with incredibly boring and uninspired characters.  Malin and Jake play a brother and sister who run a corporation that developed the pathogen and their characters are so one-dimensional that I got upset every time they appeared in the film as I had no interest in their motivations or schemes.  Malin’s character is the icy boss of the corporation who won’t let anything stand in her way while Jake’s character is a wimpy, sniveling idiot that I never for once believed that he would be capable of co-running a multi-billion dollar corporation.  I’m not really blaming the actors for this, but the writers didn’t develop the characters at all and I think you could have re-worked the script to eliminate these characters as you didn’t really need secondary villains in my opinion.

Rampage also suffers from too much destruction on screen.  It reminded me of Man of Steel and The Transformers Films, as I would become tired of seeing windows of buildings being destroyed, animals being hurled through the air into objects, helicopters being struck down to the ground.  It just becomes an overload of destruction (which a part of me understands when you title your film Rampage) that you hit a point where you want to scream out – ENOUGH ALREADY!   I thought the CGI for the film was good for the most part, with the exception of one sequence that involves Malin Akerman.

The amount of destruction also hurt the pacing of the film as the first two acts go by fairly quickly but by the third act, Rampage had worn out its welcome.  The film is about one hour, forty-six minutes in length, but I think it could have been edited down to an hour fifteen to make for a better viewing experience, especially  if they cut out some of the action pieces in the final part of the film.  When it comes to pacing, I look directly at the director and the editor as they should have realized this.  This will be the only time you will ever read this sentence when it comes to Rampage, but I think this film would be a good case study/project for film students to see if they can make the film a little leaner and the pace of the film a little quicker.

Overall

I can’t recommend seeing the film, despite the fact that Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a ton of fun and Dwayne Johnson continues his run of playing fun, charismatic characters.  I give the film 1.5 out of 4 stars.

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