Rampage Review: Monster Trash!

A genetic science lab explodes in space (why was it in space?) reigning three vials of special gas on to the earth. This special gas transforms three animals into ferocious, giant monsters. One of the animals is George, who is in the care of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Can The Rock and Dr. Naomie Harris restore George to his loveable former self and manipulate him into viciously murdering the other two monsters who I guess didn’t have loveable former selves? Can he prevent Malin Ackerman and Jake Lacy from eating all the scenery that wasn’t destroyed by CGI monsters?

Confession time. I have issues with action movies that revolve around giant monsters destroying cities. All too often this action lacks any sense of weight or impact and becomes meaningless. Rampage conducts it’s big final fight in Chicago, so the potential of me fondly reminiscing about Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy whilst largely ignoring the screen was high. However, Rampage handles it’s rampaging better than most. A sequence in which a giant fish monster is swimming beneath an open air cruise boat, casually brushing it as it moves sending it spinning with tourists violently bucked from the deck, affected me viscerally. If all moments of gargantuan destruction could have such a powerful effect on me, I’d doubtlessly be better predisposed to modern blockbusters in general.

It also handles suspense surprisingly well. The initial sequence in which a terrified scientist has to navigate a burning space station filled with the severed body parts of her dead colleagues, avoiding the murderous mutant rat that killed them is surprisingly well handled and tense. The film is grisly enough to lend teeth to its massive threats.

I was put in mind of Shin Godzilla during the film, and whilst that film used its monsters to tell a story of a country in turmoil, with many contemporary parallels, and to emphasise the characters, this film lacks any sort of social commentary and definitely struggles with character. Character development is handled perfunctorily. In one scene The Rock offers his backstory and some motivation for his biggest character flaw, his distrust of people. In the very next sequence Naomie Harris offers the antithesis and her own backstory in another monologue. This is very clumsy and leaves very little room to actually invest in these characters.

Performances range from competent to distractingly hammy. There’s a sense of camp with the twin villains of the piece, reminiscent of Team Rocket, but their larger than life antics are at odds with the more serious tone of the film’s action beats. The Rock’s charisma always shines when his characters emphasise humility and self-deprecation. Having him knowingly wink about how super competent he is, just comes over as smug. Naomie Harris is always charming, but is given nothing to do here.

The most off-putting aspect of the film is the comedic relief, which is of the Transformers variety. “Comedy” comes in the form of “weaker” characters being insulted or humiliated either by other characters (“Let’s go change your diaper”) or by the filmmakers (Look! The simpleminded brother eats pop tarts and has model spaceships on his desk! What a loser!). Or there’s the classic understated reaction to trouble (“That’s not good!”).

Rampage offers some surprisingly good thrills and is harmless enough. It’s perhaps just frustrating that it occasionally succeeded in being more than this, offering glimpses at an intelligently made monster movie, unfortunately mired is broad appeal comedic relief and clichés.

2 / 5

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