Review: ‘Rampage’

dfn-rampage-ver8-poster-300Approaching his 46th birthday, Dwayne Johnson has established himself well as a dependable and likable heroic lead character in action movies, especially over the past eight years.

Before that, known primarily as ‘The Rock,’ he was divided in his career between the movies, television and wrestling, taking on both supporting and occasional lead performances in family fare and action flicks. He showed his darker side as an actor in Faster (2010) and Snitch (2013), starring in both, but it was his supporting role in Fast Five that helped elevate him higher in his status as a screen hero and since then he’s rarely looked back.

Johnson’s focus on heroic roles has paid off with his audience, through G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Fast & Furious 6, Hercules, Furious 7, San Andreas, Central Intelligence, and The Fate of the Furious. Last year, he took some critical flak for Baywatch — and gave some back to unkind critics — and then bounced back in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

As his role in the latter film showed, Johnson is not afraid to push the edges of his screen personality, but he wisely — from a commercial standpoint — always falls back to his more conventional archetype. That has served him well and seems to be the most pleasing to his millions of fans.

Thus we have Rampage, in which Johnson stars as Davis Okoye, a big-hearted primatologist who enjoys a very special relationship with an albino gorilla named George (portrayed in motion-capture by Jason Liles) until a spaceship explodes and rains down dangerous pathogens on Earth. The pathogens cause three unfortunate animals — George the gorilla, an unnamed wolf, and an unnamed crocodile — to suddenly begin growing in size.

The animals also become far more aggressive in their behavior and develop a taste for human flesh. Their conduct resembles the average moviegoer sitting in a reclining, deeply-cushioned chair, chomping on popcorn from a giant bucket in their lap.

The primary difference is that the giant animals are accustomed to physical activity, so when the evil business executive who spearheaded the development of the dangerous pathogens decides to call them “home” (i.e., the skyscraper where the company is located in Chicago, Illinois), rampant destruction and widespread human slaughter awaits as the animals kill their way to the big city.

The animals are innocent victims of a human monster, and that’s about as far as Rampage wants to go in its moral lessons. Inspired by a popular video game that was released in 1986, screenwriters Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal and Adam Sztykiel assemble a scenario that enables Dwayne Johnson to be heroic as he endeavors to save his best friend George, with the help of Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), who formerly worked at the evil company run by Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman), and Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a mercenary who begins working for the evil company and then is tempted to the side of the good guys.

Rampage is not meant to be taken seriously. Instead, it’s a modern, Hollywood version of the Japanese sequels to Gojira and like-minded, derivative works, pumped up by millions of dollars spent on visual effects to make the incalculable destruction of property and the deaths of thousands of people look as inoffensive — and lovely — as possible. It achieves those goals handily.

The film is playing in theaters throughout Dallas and Fort Worth. Seek to pay as little as possible on the biggest screen available.