‘Rampage’ Somehow Makes Giant Monsters Smashing Stuff Look Tedious

Warner Bros.

Almost since there have been films, there have been films about giant creatures destroying cities and eating people. The genre has birthed some of our most beloved classics, from Them! to Godzilla to King Kong, that remain favorites to this day. But, look, they can’t all be winners, and some monster movies are just downright dull.

I can’t put my finger on exactly why Rampage doesn’t work. The Rock’s charisma could seemingly make the most nonsensical movie function as long as he is the fulcrum, but even the People’s Eyebrow falls flat under the weight of the script, which is functional at best, clunky at worst. Villainess Malin Akerman, bored out of her mind, speaks lines of painful expository dialogue like, “Remember that private military firm we acquired last year?” None of the performances are particularly great, except, maybe, for the sheer bizarreness of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s smirking government agent Harvey Russell, who refers to himself as “this cowboy” and wears a silver-plated pistol and a big belt buckle over his Men in Black suit and tie. The creature design of all the giant beasts looks good, but you have to wait until the very end to see them in action.

Dwayne Johnson plays Davis Okoye, a former soldier turned wildlife preservationist/primatologist, who saved albino gorilla George from poachers when George was teeny tiny. The two have been close friends ever since, and communicate through sign language (and, on George’s part, rude gestures) at the zoo where George lives peacefully with his adoptive family group of fellow apes. That is, until a space station owned by an evil genetics company explodes and experimental material that has the power to embiggen things lands in the middle of his enclosure.

In a prologue of sorts, the last remaining astronaut on the doomed space station is goaded into bringing the experimental material back with her, despite the giant rat tearing the station apart and the fact that, if the stuff was up in space in the first place, it probably has no business going back to Earth. Her escape pod explodes and canisters of the stuff land in various places around North America, affecting George, a wild wolf, and an alligator. George starts to get big, and, because of his fear and because the serum affects his brain, aggressive. Meanwhile, Claire Wyden (Akerman), the head of the company that first created the serum, sends her own team of black ops dudes to find the wolf and bring it to her. It does not go well for them.

Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) sees the news of the space station explosion on TV, which is conveniently followed by an item about how strange it is that the local zoo’s albino gorilla has started acting weird after something fell into the zoo from the sky. Kate puts two and two together and rushes over to the zoo, where she convinces Davis that she knows what’s going on and is the only person who knows how to stop it.

While all this is going on, Claire has outfitted her building (Chicago’s Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower) with a giant antenna that will blast a loud frequency into the air meant to call the creatures to her like a dog whistle, as she explains to her hapless brother Brett (Jake Lacy), whose entire purpose in the movie is so that Akerman has some fool at her side to say her explanatory dialogue at. She’ll take genetic material from them and use it as a weapon, or something. And so the creatures hear the tone, and they begin their cross-country journey to Chicago, where they will rampage, as is their purpose.

I think my main problem with Rampage is that I felt talked down to for the entire 107-minute runtime. Because he’s playing a bad guy, Joe Manganiello is first introduced opening his car door while also holding a pistol in the same hand he’s using to pull the door handle. Akerman spends the entire movie in body-hugging Banana Republic sheath dresses, and even evokes Cruella de Vil in a furry coat while she gestures at our heroes with a gun. Everyone has lines that explain exactly what’s going on in case you weren’t paying attention. Rampage is like Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla for people who have a hard time keeping their eyes open in the movie theater. If you miss 20 minutes, don’t worry, someone onscreen will recap it all for you when you wake back up.

There’s a lot in here that, despite valiant attempts to suspend my disbelief, I had to call bullshit on. We first meet Davis while he’s leading a group of zoo trainees into a gorilla enclosure while a nervous young male gorilla is introducing himself to the established troupe of female apes and their babies. I’m no primatologist, but trapping yourself, not to mention inexperienced colleagues, in an enclosure during a situation as volatile as that seems like something any wildlife expert would say never to do. Davis, at one point, has one throwaway line in which he is astonished that two species of different kinds would take the same migratory path. Any wildlife expert worth their salt would know that different species migrate in the same direction all the time!

The creature designs are pretty cool — particularly the alligator, who is outfitted with spikes, an extendable frill around its neck, and giant boar tusks. But they barely have time to have their big, crashing reveals before they start tearing into each other. Besides his size, though, George’s appearance doesn’t change. (Because he’s the good guy, get it?) The movie also includes some halfhearted references to the arcade game that inspired it: when the giant wolf is introduced, one character mentions that “weirdos on the Internet are calling him ‘Ralph.’”

Movies like this have a weird perception of DNA — that it can be altered willy-nilly, and that the word “mutation” means swiftly growing more limbs or hair or bigger teeth, instead of what it actually means, which is essentially a gradual, uninteresting process that happens over time. I’d more likely believe the animals were transformed by vitamins or a radioactive lake (devices used in the game) than suddenly have their genetic material altered by taking a few breaths of noxious green gas. Rampage treats the building blocks of life like it treats its story: something functional to gloss over so that we can get to the part where the beasts start smashing stuff.