Reel Opinions


Friday, April 13, 2018

Rampage

"Well, that sucks" - Dialogue from Rampage

It's rare for a movie to review itself so accurately in its own dialogue.  Rampage is the latest argument for my belief that Hollywood no longer makes B-Movies.  They just throw globs of money at scripts that 10 years ago would have been hard pressed to find an audience on the SyFy Channel, dress them up with top tier talent and special effects, and call it an "event movie".  Rampage is only an event if you're looking for a movie that will assault your senses, make a lot of noise without actually accomplishing or saying anything, and take your money without giving anything in return.

The movie is loosely based on the old video game (I hesitate to use the word "classic".) from the 80s and 90s where players took control of giant monsters, and pretty much laid waste to every major city in their path.  Granted, the game did have some initial fun as you smashed buildings, ate people, and destroyed the tanks and puny military soldiers that were trying to stop you, but it always became incredibly repetitive if you tried to play it for an extended period of time.  The movie at least captures this aspect of the game.  It's long, it's monotonous, and it's completely brainless.  What's odd about the movie is that the script doesn't seem to know if we're supposed to be laughing at it, or taking it seriously.  We get a lot of quips and one-liners from its heroes, and a massive albino gorilla who can communicate in sign language, but prefers to flip people its middle finger instead.  And the next minute, it's showing us touching reunions as survivors of a city-wide attack embrace one another while heavy-handed dramatic music wails on the soundtrack.  It's like the movie knows it's dumb, but doesn't want to admit it.

But hey, the movie lets you know what you're in for right as soon as the studio logos fade.  In its opening scene, we witness a female scientist on board a space station who is the final survivor after a giant mutant rat got loose from its lab, and killed everyone else on board.  She wants to escape, but her mysterious superiors down on Earth whom she is in radio contact with won't let her until she retrieves some genetic samples from the lab.  She does so and makes her escape, but does not survive.  The samples that she was trying to flee with fall to Earth, and immediately mutate the first animals that they come in contact with.  We see a wolf and an alligator get exposed, and before long, they've grown to enormous skyscraper-shattering size, and are munching on innocent people and hapless military troops who try to stop them.  But the main focus of the movie is George, a rare albino ape who has been living peacefully in a San Diego animal preserve zoo.  As soon as he is exposed to the mutating substance, he begins to grow to enormous size, escapes from his enclosure and becomes extremely violent and aggressive, killing one of the zoo's grizzly bears.

George's trainer and closest human friend is Davis (Dwayne Johnson), who has a military background, and has devoted his life to helping animals because he likes them better than most people.  That's about all the backstory we get on our lead hero.  When he sees what has happened to George, he becomes determined to find out what's going on.  He is eventually teamed up with a scientist named Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), who seems to know a lot about what's going on with all these animals growing to the size of a jet plane, and turning violent.  Turns out she used to work for a shady corporation that was partaking in a "Rampage" project where they were trying to weaponize and create massive mutant monsters.  How they came to create this project, what they hoped to achieve, and how they were able to afford a full-scale space station hovering above Earth in order to perform their experiments is never answered. 

The evil corporation is headed up by the evilly over the top brother and sister team of Claire (Malin Akerman) and Brett Wyden (Jake Lacy).  Both are portrayed as such extreme teeth-gnashing and snarling villains that it's impossible to take them seriously.  In what is perhaps a touch of meta humor, the two have an actual Rampage arcade game in their office that appears in the background in a lot of shots.  This is kind of like if the recent Tomb Raider movie had a scene where Lara Croft was seen playing one of her own video games.  Regardless, the villainous siblings have a device on the top of their corporate tower that emits a signal that calls the three mutated beasts to come to them, and start tearing up the streets of Chicago.  This brings about the film's climactic moments, where the monsters attack the Windy City, leaving most of it in ruin.  It was only a few weeks ago that we had Pacific Rim: Uprising, where giant robots and monsters did battle in Tokyo.  Despite the location change, if someone were to mash up the climax of the two movies into one sequence, you probably wouldn't be able to tell which movie was which.

Rampage clearly wants to be a check your brain at the door piece of entertainment, but like I said, I think the script is confused about whether it wants to be a self-aware piece of cheese along the lines of Sharknado, or if it wants to be a genuine Hollywood spectacle.  It tries both approaches, and the two halves never mesh.  It also gets to the point where the human actors are drowned out by the massive special effects and set pieces.  Even the charismatic Dwayne Johnson gets lost in the chaos, and genuinely is forced to run around and yell at a giant CG gorilla in most of his scenes.  What tiny bit of character development there is is perfunctory and ends up making us care very little about these people.  There's a potentially interesting character in Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a government agent with a cowboy's swagger and manner of speech.  He at least grabs our attention, but the movie never knows what to do with him, so he routinely stands on the sidelines and mostly watches the action from afar.

I can see how some people might view this as harmless dumb fun, but the movie really wore on me, and never gave me an inkling that it knew what it was doing.  In one of the film's final shots, we see George the giant gorilla giving the camera the middle finger and laughing.  A more appropriate ending would be having the entire cast and crew of the film joining him in flipping off the audience.

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