★★ / ★★★★
It is too bad that Brad Peyton’s “Rampage” does not aspire to become anything more than a brainless giant monster movie. While it does deliver the expected destruction that the title promises, those who have experienced the sheer madness and imagination of modern monster films such as “Shin Godzilla” and “Pacific Rim” are likely to walk away disappointed, for its numerous generic images escape the mind like trash to be taken out by the end of the day in order to make room for healthier, better alternatives. The screenplay is helmed by four individuals—Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, and Adam Sztykiel—but not one of them bothers to steer the story, the source material being a video game, toward more daring and interesting directions.
The opening title card mentions the acronym CRISPR, a genetic editing tool that can be utilized with a certain level of precision. While not perfect, generally speaking, it is better than current alternatives when it comes to price and efficiency. Because I work with this technology, the title card excited me. I thought that the picture just might take the opportunity by the horns, despite being a sci-fi action picture first and foremost, to communicate the power and implications of this gene editing tool for the mainstream public. Because let’s be honest: Most scientists, especially scientific articles, do not do a good enough job when it comes to putting scientific information in layman’s terms. But just as quickly all hope is lost; the succeeding scenes show that it is not at all interested in science. And that is all right. However, as a popcorn flick, the film is not that entertaining either.
And so the movie must be evaluated based on what it is interested in achieving: escapism in the form of devastation and loud noises. On some level, it delivers. Special and visual effects are first-rate; when one does not look at them closely, they are passable and occasionally impressive. However, squint just a little and notice how, for example, George the gorilla does not interact with any of the people visiting the zoo as he makes a desperate escape. For a nine-foot agitated primate—that grew a shocking two inches overnight after having been exposed to a man-made pathogen that crashed in the enclosure the night before—it is quite unbelievable that not one person is nudged a little, knocked down, or hurt during his getaway. This is a symptom of a problem.
In other words, the material plays it too safe—preposterous because it is a monster movie after all and everything should be laid out on the table. Its brightest spots are actually instances when, for instance, a gargantuan monster eats a person and the camera shows it front and center, in delicious slow motion. Why not show more of this type of gallows humor so that viewers are constantly surprised? Skyscrapers falling, tanks and planes exploding, and shooting monsters to no avail suffer from diminishing returns. At least thirty minutes is dedicated to this exercise of increasing boredom.
Dwayne Johnson plays primatologist Davis Okoye and it is shown that he has a friendship, a special bond, with the albino gorilla. While Johnson, as expected, is able to deliver his signature charm and swagger, the problematic screenplay fails to develop their relationship in a meaningful way. After the initial fifteen minutes, the expressive CGI gorilla is reduced to another monster that goes wild and people having to run away from it. Meanwhile, Naomie Harris’ scientist character serves as decoration. She is so talented and it pains me that she ends up playing these thankless roles.
“Rampage” could have used a whole lot of ambition in order to become more memorable. The aforementioned “Shin Godzilla” criticizes the role of self-imposed red tape that the government ends up tripping itself over in the face of national emergencies. “Rampage” could have sharpened its screenplay by aiming to criticize how promising science is eventually perverted by hawk-eyed businesspeople—a subject that concerns every person in our modern world of today. Sometimes it makes more sense for a monster movie to not just be another forgettable monster movie—sometimes a monster movie is a statement piece.