I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Connor Bynum // Film Critic
“Well, that sucks.” – Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
There are movies that are able to pull of that delicate balance of being a mindless blockbuster spectacle with a sense of lighthearted self awareness and fun. Then there’s RAMPAGE.
Based off of the 1986 arcade game of the same name, where the player would take control of a gigantic animal to wreak havoc on a nameless city and its inhabitants, this adaptation understandably takes some creative liberties. Yet for all of its efforts and spectacle, RAMPAGE is irreparably held back by virtually every addition to what was always a simplistic premise.
Perhaps the most baffling of changes made from the source material is the origin of its monsters. In the original game, each of the main monsters were humans before being transformed into their respective gargantuan creatures. Instead of keeping in tune with such an origin, the film’s primary primate, George (a motion captured performance by Jason Liles) is simply an albino gorilla who’s best friends with a primatologist/beefcake named Davis Okoye (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). Perhaps this change is because Warner Bros. shuddered at the thought of not having a human protagonist in a movie based off of a game with no human protagonist. Perhaps it’s because not having The Rock looking and acting exactly the same as he does in every other movie starring The Rock was too bold of a move for The Rock to make. We may never truly know.
Deviations from the source material aside, Davis and George communicate primarily through sign language and share about the most bro-tastic bromance imaginable. That is until George happens upon a toxic gas designed to genetically alter animals to massively grow in size and aggression in order to destroy literally everything. Yes. A human designed this. Because reasons. Davis must then race to find a cure for his albino friend before it’s too late.
Johnson certainly has a knack for portraying seemingly invincible characters, yet he may have gone too far with this one as he literally dismisses being shot with a gun at point blank range due to the fact that, “It must have missed [his] vital organs.” Dude, there is no exit wound on your back. There is a bullet inside of you. I realize there is a need for a suspension of disbelief when it comes to watching a movie about giant mutated animals having a go at civilization, but it’s hard to emotionally invest in a film when its leading man is this impervious to death.
Nearly every human character in this movie is obnoxiously unnecessary. Alongside The Rock is Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), a scientist who kind of knows how the gene-altering chemicals work, except not really. There’s also Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a cowboy stereotype who works for a nameless government organization with a taste for moseying into a room to leisurely deliver a line in a smooth southern accent, only to walk away at any given time. In spite of shoving their backstories down our throats, both of these characters feel more like obligations instead of a supporting cast that brings something to the table.
The two main antagonists, Claire and Brett Wyden (Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy, respectively) are best described as a less intimidating (and dumber) version of Jessie and James of Team Rocket from POKEMON. They’re dynamic is painful whenever they share the screen together, with Lacy, in particular — he’s sporting the most punchable face imaginable. Akerman, on the other hand, proves to be, at least, a somewhat foreboding villain as Claire. Well, that’s whenever she isn’t weighed down by her idiot brother, but, thankfully, these moments are few and far between.
However, when the rampaging finally does get going, the movie is actually a sporadically fun experience. The three monsters are intricately well designed creations and admittedly pull off some legitimately cool acts of destruction. It’s just that nearly every other aspect of the movie refuses to stop getting in the way of it all. For example, after the third and most fearsome monster triumphantly reveals itself as the ultimate threat, Johnson simply can’t help himself from dragging any momentum to a halt with zingers such as (the teased about line at the top): “Well, that sucks,” and “I need a drink.” And who could forget classics like, “Of course, the wolf flies.” These throwaway one-liners are surely meant to elicit a laugh from the audience, but ultimately, come off as annoying and stupid.
It is worth noting RAMPAGE is surprisingly violent for a PG-13-rated film. Of course, a movie about three giant monsters destroying anything that gets in their way is expected to have some intense moments, but parents should take caution on bringing their younger children to this one. That being said, I’m sure there are plenty of youngsters out there who will get a kick out of seeing what was likely one gruesome kill away from an R-rated movie.
I haven’t left a movie theater this physically angry since TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT. A handful of crowd pleasing action sequences are not nearly enough to justify sitting through such a colossal waste of time.
RAMPAGE opens nationwide on Friday, April 13.