‘Rampage’ Review: A Big, Dumb, Not-So-Fun Cartoon

I can’t tell whether there’s too much rampaging in Rampage, or not enough. The only thing I am sure about is that it takes too long to get to the rampaging. Rampaging is, after all, the number one thing that Rampage has going for it — exposition and set-up aren’t exactly the draw of a movie like this.

For anyone for whom the title isn’t a sufficient description of what you’re getting into, suffice to say that Rampage is a good old-fashioned monster movie. A mysterious serum gets cooked up in a lab in outer space via CRISPR gene editing (which is a real thing), and when things on the station go awry, canisters of the serum plummet down to Earth. Those canisters, in turn, infect a few animals, causing them to grow in size and throwing a few other genetic mutations into the mix. And then, well, you know.

I like a smash-em-up movie as much as the next person (I loved Pacific Rim Uprising!), and to be fair, Rampage, has plenty going for it. The film, directed by Brad Peyton, features huge composite monsters, cartoonishly evil corporate overlords (Malin Åkerman and Jake Lacy), and The Rock. There’s even Jeffrey Dean Morgan as what I can only describe as an action hero version of Andy Daly’s Dalton Wilcox character (“the poet laureate of the west”). Plus, there’s a unique joy to positing that Dwayne Johnson could take on a giant monster in one-to-one combat.

And yet, Rampage drags. Too much time is spent trying to inject the film, which is loosely based on the video game franchise of the same name, with some faint measure of real-world grittiness. Ultimately, it only makes the film’s big showdown stranger to watch. When the monsters finally get to wreaking havoc, it’s fun for a moment (Rampaging! Finally!) but it quickly turns sour. There’s something grim about watching Chicago collapse into piles of debris and ash, even if it is just at the hands (paws?) of giant monsters. There’s a strange near-lack of value placed on human life that I don’t quite know how to process.

Still, in the event that Rampage gets a sequel, I have a few ideas. Johnson’s character, primatologist David Okoye, is terrific, or at least bizarrely ready-made for the internet at large to love him. He doesn’t get along great with people, but he loves animals, and he prefers spending time with his dogs to going out at night. His friendship with the albino gorilla George (Jason Liles) is easily the best part of the movie — which makes a nominal amount of sense given that the original game’s appeal was taking on the monster’s role — and the brief glimpse we get of Okoye’s anti-poaching team is pretty damn fun. P.J. Byrne, as Okoye’s pal, is a terrific foil. As heretical as it may seem, I’d be happy to watch a Rampage sequel that was just Okoye tooling around the lab.

Then, of course, there’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Agent Harvey Russell. I really can’t overstate just how much of a caricature — in a good way! — his character is. He speaks with a drawl, has a pearl-handle pistol tucked into his belt, and has pet names for pretty much everyone. His character is baffling to the point that I laughed every time he was on screen, and I loved every second of it. Give him his own movie, or at least put him in Archer!

As may be obvious from the spin-offs that I’ve put forward here, there’s not much in Rampage itself that justifies its nearly two-hour runtime. Had it been judiciously cut down, it might be a perfect blockbuster, but as it is, it’s a little too clunky to soar. Everyone seems to be aware they’re in a Saturday morning cartoon, but they’re all in different shows.

For instance, as Claire Wyden, Malin Åkerman isn’t quite in the same movie as Johnson. As a corporate ice queen, she seems to be having a ball, especially in the back-and-forth between Claire and her brother, Brett (Jake Lacy), a hapless bro. But her character falls curiously flat, perhaps just because she isn’t given enough to do. Naomie Harris, as a disgraced scientist and Okoye’s love interest, isn’t given enough to do, either, but she’s tuned into the Rock’s wavelength, both in terms of sheer charisma, and in terms of what kind of cartoon they’re in.

But there’s a bigger, more fundamental problem. As previously mentioned, I honestly can’t tell whether or not I wish Rampage had more rampaging in it, or less, which feels like a fatal flaw in a movie called Rampage. And, if you can believe it, I came away feeling like the movie about giant mutants fighting The Rock could have been sillier. Maybe if it had leaned just a little bit harder into its own ridiculousness, I’d have loved it without reserve, but as it is, it’s less of a rampage, and more of a slog.

/Film Rating: 4 out of 10

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About the Author

Karen Han is a writer based in New York, via the midwest. She writes about film, TV, and Tintin, among other things.