Kernel Rating: (2 out of 5)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 107 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 12+. For a PG-13 film, ‘Rampage’ actually has a surprising amount of bloody violence and gore: bloody limbs and body parts float around in a space capsule; numerous characters die, are crushed by debris, are torn apart, or are eaten, and there is a lot of blood splatter throughout; there are plane crashes, explosions, and the destruction of Chicago; and various animals are killed, including a flashback scene to poachers killing a gorilla with machetes. Some cursing; some sexually themed humor and flirting; and some rude jokes, including the middle finger being given numerous times.
‘Rampage’ is a movie in which none of the pieces fit together well—the characters, monsters, action set pieces, and emotional tone all seem like they belong in separate films. It’s a strange combination that doesn’t really deliver thrills or humor.
By Roxana Hadadi
Dwayne Johnson has good intentions, but “Rampage” never quite clicks. The man whose charm often carried last year’s “Jumanji” reboot “Welcome to the Jungle” is doing his best in “Rampage,” a movie based on a video game series that began in the 1980s, but this is a movie made of disparate, often seemingly unconnected parts.
There are numerous instances of gratingly immature humor, but they come after action sequences in which dozens of people die. There is a light attempt at some romantic tension, but again, it comes after action sequences in which dozens of people die. The film can’t figure out what it wants to do tonally, and although “Rampage” could be a solid B-movie, it never fully embraces the campy tone a project like this would need to succeed. Too often it seems to settle for an almost surprising amount of gory violence—especially for a movie rated PG-13—as a fallback plan when nothing else works.
“Rampage” focuses on former U.S. military member and San Diego Zoo primatologist Davis Okoye (Johnson, of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”), whose years hunting poachers has made him mostly distrusting and skeptical of people. Instead, his closest friend is the albino silverback gorilla George, whom he rescued years ago from poachers and who now lives at the zoo. They communicate in sign language, and George like playing practical jokes on Davis, such as giving him the middle finger. (A joke the film goes back to more than once, and which is increasingly unfunny.)
But George goes from being friendly and jovial to scared and menacing literally overnight when a mysterious capsule falls out of the sky, releasing a neon green gas that makes George grow larger and more aggressive. Davis wants to know what caused this change in his friend, but he also wants to save him—and when genetic engineer Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris, of “Spectre”) arrives at the zoo and says she can help, he chooses to make an exception and trust her.
Things quickly get out of hand, though, when Davis and Kate are taken by the Department of Homeland Security to the evasive Texan government agent Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”). Russell agrees with Kate that a bioengineering company led by the Wyden siblings Claire (Malin Åkerman, of “Rock of Ages”) and Brett (Jake Lacy) are behind the substance, but he doesn’t think that George will survive this. And when it’s revealed that two other animals have also been affected—a 30-foot-long wolf and a monstrously large crocodile—and that both they and George are making their way to Chicago, the likelihood that Davis’s friend will live decreases even more.
For the most part, “Rampage” operates on a somewhat self-aware level. Morgan and Åkerman are really hamming it up, with the latter especially giving great zeal to her absolutely immoral capitalist villain, and the script often embraces cheesy clichés like “You mess with my friend, you mess with me” and “We’re getting the hell off this plane!” Some of that is actually successful in a somewhat goofy way. But the movie also goes all-in on the blood and gore, and its attempts to make George cute veer into the crass, and Johnson plays everything a little too seriously, and Harris gives a steady performance, but her character is on a totally different wavelength than the zaniness of Morgan and Åkerman. It’s all just strange.
And from a fun point of view—there isn’t much, really? There is so much death here, and the killing is often so quick, that the action scenes kind of blur together. There are no real tense moments, no real face-offs between gigantic monsters that are fun to watch; there are no truly gonzo moments like those from “Pacific Rim” or “Kong: Skull Island” here. And it’s strange, too, that the monster design for the wolf and the alligator are so interesting—porcupine quills, flying ability, weird growths, and a spiked tail!—but George’s only change is that he gets slightly bigger (perhaps so younger audiences can distinguish between the scary monster and the good monster, but still—it’s uncreative.) The movie’s refusal to commit to something truly weird and wild is a disappointment, and even Johnson’s charisma can’t make “Rampage” watchable.
Oh, and if you do pay to see this movie—don’t go through the trouble of IMAX or any other enhanced format. The CGI is so nondescript and so dark that paying more isn’t worth it.
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