It’s safe to say that no one who’s going to see Rampage is expecting a smart night at the multiplex, but it’s also safe to say that the film’s target audience is expecting briskly paced carnage—at least of the same sort that director Brad Peyton previously splattered about in the junky earthquake epic San Andreas. Maybe the fact that Peyton’s latest has four credited screenwriters should’ve been a clue, but brisk is hardly the word for Rampage. It’s a wonder that a video game from the 1980s could efficiently set its premise up in a single cut scene, but a major Hollywood production in 2018 can’t seem to get beyond mere exposition in its 107-minute running time.
For those who never dropped a quarter to play a video game, the arcade classic Rampage offered players the chance to destroy one city after another as one of three giant monster archetypes: a crypto-King Kong gorilla, a pseudo-Godzilla lizard, and a “we need a third giant animal” wolf. In the game, each character is actually a human who, thanks to exposure to various forms of radiation or hormones, transforms into a demolition-minded beast. So long as they’re destroying buildings and avoiding tactical military strikes, the game carries on, simple as that. From a formal standpoint, that’s pretty close to the experience San Andreas provided, for better or—during occasional forays into the protagonists’ marital woes—worse. The longer the Earth opens up and makes mortar crumble and glass shatter, the more the film carries on.
Unlike Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla, which benefited from its Jaws-style slow burn, it’s all noise without crescendo.
Not so with Rampage. As with San Andreas, Dwayne Johnson’s broad shoulders take center stage as the world collapses around them. This time he plays Davis Okoye, the lead primatologist at a San Diego wildlife refuge. Much like Chris Pratt in Jurassic World, we’re meant to buy that he’s preternaturally gifted at communicating with the animal kingdom, presumably because he knows a half-dozen words in sign language. Davis has all the time in the world for the reserve’s albino gorilla, George, and very little time for basically the entire human genus, even including the thigh gap-flaunting blond intern who asks him to teach her the ways of domination in the animal kingdom.
While Davis is busy giving women whatever their equivalent of blue balls would be, a satellite carrying billions of dollars’ worth of “specimens” falls to Earth, flinging canisters of nefarious vapors into the wilderness, and also George’s gorilla pen. Which introduces more characters, which further preempts the titular rampage. Unlike 2014’s Godzilla, which benefited from director Gareth Edwards’s patience with the Jaws-style slow burn, Rampage is all noise without crescendo. Peyton doesn’t have Edwards’s visionary, omniscient sense of perspective; indeed, the jury’s out on whether he, or anyone, can see beyond the Rock’s engorged pectorals.
In Godzilla, the orgy of climactic destruction arrived with what Werner Herzog would simply call the pitilessness of nature, with the tears of a cowering human populace finding a visual and spiritual analogue in the glass-strewn weeping of skyscrapers as they collapse. Rampage doesn’t even have the commitment to its own premise to mine any thematic resonance of note from the film’s backdrop of weaponized bioengineering, instead leaning hard on a cartoon brother-sister pair of multi-billionaire business moguls (played by Malin Åkerman and Jake Lacy). Which is extra ironic coming from a film that, in its quest to provide disreputable fun from making cinematic skyscraper collapses great again, depicts the annihilation of virtually every Chicago landmark except Trump International Hotel and Tower.