Synopsis – When three different animals become infected with a dangerous pathogen, a primatologist and a geneticist team up to stop them from destroying Chicago.
My Take – Even though video game adaptions have managed a long steady record of failing to meet any form of expectations, the mild success of director Roar Uthaug‘s Tomb Raider starring Alicia Vikander in the lead role is any indication Hollywood studios and filmmakers may have found the right formula. While we still await the big screen adaption of Monopoly (seriously it’s happening) to hit the screen, San Andreas director Brad Peyton and writers Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal and Adam Sztykiel have cooked up an adaption of the much beloved 1986 arcade game by Midway Games, which was popular enough to spawn multiple sequels followed by a leap from arcade to console over the years.
For the uninitiated, the arcade game allowed the players to control one of three giant monsters while trying to destroy a city and simultaneously avoiding the attacks of human military units. Sounds pretty simple and ridiculous right? Yes, that is what you can expect from the film too. Anchored by the star power of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, this is one of those films in which the viewer has to surrender all reasoning and think creatively before making a commitment to watching it, as the film contains ample fodder for the desperate filmgoer including far-fetched plot details, fast paced action sequences, multiple setting sites, destruction & explosions, juvenile humor, guns, and just enough swearing and blood to garner a PG-13 rating.
In simpler terms, what the film lacks in complexity and story, it makes up for through pure spectacle and fun. The story follows Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson), a former U.S. Army Special Forces soldier, who following his stint in an anti-poaching unit in Rwanda became a primatologist and now works in the San Diego Wildlife Sanctuary. His prime reason to love his job is due to his special bond with George (Jason Liles), an albino silverback gorilla, whose life Davis saved when he was very young, then raised him and taught him the sign language to develop a mutual friendship.
However, when a science experiment in space goes wrong, three canisters containing the samples of the experiment fall back on Earth, making George the first one to be infected by the unknown substance which ends up genetically editing his genes and turns him into a rather gigantic, rage-filled version of himself. While Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), a genetic engineer, immediately arrives to help Davis understand how George is growing at an alarming rate, a government agency named OGA led by Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) also swoop in to transport George to a secure location. Unknown to all of them, the Wyden siblings, Claire (Malin Akerman) and her brother Brett (Jake Lacy), owners of the corporation that was in charge of the space station experiment have begun sending out a signal which would force the giant gorilla to enter the city, as a means for their a return on investment. As a result of which George escapes and is joined by an equally enormous wolf and crocodile, who reach the city of Chicago and start causing havoc, leaving Davis, Kate and Harvey looking for every solution to stop their rampaging.
If the synopsis seems a little silly, you’re not wrong, because the film never attempts to take itself too seriously, and neither does Johnson, who manages to find just the right balance of sincerity and self-awareness to make the film an entertaining adventure, mainly as we witness his bromance with a congenial, motion-captured albino gorilla, while fighting of a Godzilla sized alligator and a flying wolf. The most enjoyable aspect of the film is how it does not even pretend to have a modicum of narrative smarts – the entire film is filled with scenes of rib-tickling hilarious exposition to explain what went wrong, as giant beasts are knocking down buildings (and a few people in the way). This is very obviously ’90s video game material and the reason why it kind of works is that it never takes itself too seriously, unlike other recent game adaptations.
Known for his another loud and action packed film, San Andreas, director Brad Peyton seems to carry a certain love for silliness that oozes through every awkwardly staged scene in this film; whether this was intentional or not remains in the air but the final product embraces the campiness. From an exciting sequence with mercenaries fighting with a giant wolf in the forest to George’s escape on the plane and the final half hour climax of three monsters causing mass destruction, director Peyton ensures no matter how it goes about the film remains a wild ride. While a film of such scale rarely has any form of character developments or complexities, I found myself immensely interested in George and Davis’s friendship which at the end is the actual core around which the film’s story line is based around. Their interactions are all seemed fairly well done and it definitely held some emotional connection.
Also adding on to the camp factor is the humor, of course, with Dwayne Johnson at the center, you can always expect him to show off some of his excellent comedy chops, and it’s no different here. Sure, the concept of the film itself is hilarious enough, and even the acting/writing can be unintentionally comedic to leave you chuckling. However, the intended comedy comes primarily from the one liners packed into Johnson and Morgan‘s lines. Their rapier delivery is sharp, well-timed, and has just enough emphasis to maximize the sting these insults and lines bring.
Throw in some of the vaudeville with George the CGI gorilla who also makes some inappropriate gestures, you get some surprising laughs that you might not be expecting. But of course the biggest draw of the film remains the action sequences, which director Peyton like his earlier film delivers. Smooth animation, well-crafted realism, and some originality help bring these monsters to life on the big screen in a way that leave many with mouths agape. These titans of terror, have fantastic sound editing to go along with their visual prowess that brings everything together to unleash the full might of these beasts. As for the carnage itself, the special effects department delivers on this as well, combining pyrotechnics and man made visuals to craft their visual representation of the classic arcade game. The effects themselves pay much homage to the platform they were built upon and in the last 40 minutes of the film, one will feel as if they have dived into that classic game.
Yet, the film suffers from problems that even Johnson’s charisma can’t hide. Sure, the film turned out better than I had expected, however, a lackluster story that succumbs to cheesiness and mundane tactics, the film needed to dig deeper to unlock the primitive energy locked up within. It’s a shame that the film doesn’t focus more on what makes it tick as a piece of throwaway entertainment as when you throw in some terribly conveyed corporate baddies in the form of the Wyden siblings to go along with the so-so dialogue and long winded set-up. Some of this includes the way the dialogue was delivered, the random plot elements thrown in, and even some of the chaos itself dropped a little over the top for me and because of this stretch of the imagination, other components suffer. The film can often feel like a chore to sit through, so much so that not even the usually undeniable charms of Dwayne Johnson can overcome.
Also, while majority of the sequences with George the giant ape and his mutated wolf and lizard counterparts are crisply animated with an imperceptible line between the human cast and the digital characters, the film does fall back on some less-impressive green-screen moments. Some of the later scenes in particular feature a discernible blur where human characters and practical sets meet digital characters and environments, and it can be a little distracting once it catches the eye and inevitably becomes difficult not to see in subsequent scenes. Considering all this, I think the film managed its cast of characters quite nicely, and while no one can say this is a captivating character study, it can be said that the actors maintain a nice stage presence and remember to provide discernible traits, flaws, and even charms.
Led by Dwayne Johnson who will continue to be the big star that he is for years to come because his on-screen charm doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, at least anytime soon. Keeping an amiably straight face throughout the assault of infantile explosions happening on the screen, not every actor can afford this level of friendly, wink-and-nod informality with his audience, but it seems natural for Johnson. While the capable Naomie Harris is reduced to a typical female side kick, Jeffrey Dean Morgan with his cowboy attitude is surprisingly a breath of fresh air for the film. Despite their poorly written characters, Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy play their antagonist’s parts well. In smaller roles, Joe Manganiello, Jack Quaid, Marley Shelton and P.J. Byrne are alright. On the whole, ‘Rampage‘ is a big, loud, silly yet fun monster film that can be witnessed as an enjoyable toss-off actioner.
Directed – Brad Peyton
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 107 minutes