Our lord and saviour Dwayne Johnson can seemingly save troubled franchises with as much ease as it takes him to put a man to sleep using just his bare hands – but even he, with all his divinity, can’t save Rampage from steam-rolling all over his filmography.
With neither the will nor the reason to experiment with his roles, The Rock has cornered the market when it comes to a very precise sub genre of action movies, the sort that his nemesis Vin Diesel had made his own about a decade ago. These are the movies that cater to teenage boys and no one else, ideally those who were born post 9/11 so that the inevitable mass mayhem of the third act has little subtext, if any. There have been exceptions, of course. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was a surprisingly wild ride, but usually the Rock’s recent output seems to be made up of dusty old relics hastily cleaned as a last moment gift for a younger audience that may or may not throw it in the trash.
Technically, Rampage is a video game movie, sort of like how Jumanji was also a video game movie – while there are elements that are either inspired by or borrowed from the games and gaming culture, these movies are largely vehicles for Dwayne Johnson to drive off a cliff. And survive.
This time, adventure calls when the Rock’s friend (and gorilla), George, is infected by a toxic serum that gives him super strength, super agility and super size. With shady government agents, shadier mercenaries and the shadiest corporation in the world after George, the Rock enlists the help of a disgraced scientist (Naomie Harris) and a cowboy agent (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) as he tries to save George from being killed, captured, or both.
Rampage is a movie with absolutely zero stakes, which is ironic because at one point the Rock says the exact words, “Let’s go save the world.” But this has been a rather annoying trend with his movies recently. His Fast & Furious character, Hobbs, is basically a superhero; his character in Jumanji literally had three lives, and in Rampage, his character, Davis Okoye, gets shot at point blank range and lives to flex another muscle.
For these films, the Rock prefers the hired gun method of movie-making, the one-man studio that he is. So he gets a young filmmaker who has displayed obedience in the past, and has a much easier time taking direction than giving it. This is his third movie with Brad Peyton, with whom he previously collaborated on Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (not half as terrible as its title) and San Andreas (exactly as uninspired as it sounds). Rampage , their latest, manages to underwhelm even with the handicap of not having any expectations to begin with.
In many ways, it’s like a Salman Khan movie – The Rock even retains his famous tattoos, much like how Salman, regardless of the character he’s playing, protects his bracelet with more passion than he has ever displayed towards a script. So The Rock gets a resounding hero entry and the film gets several moments designed only to elicit whistles from the least demanding members of the audience.
The trouble with films like this – we saw a similar scenario unfold very recently with Pacific Rim Uprising, and Kong Skull Island a few months before that – is that they’ve deluded themselves into thinking that all we want to see is giant monsters knocking each other senseless, preferably if one of the giant monsters happens to be The Rock. By spending about an hour setting up its plot, it would seem as if Rampage is at least aware of these problems. Whether or not it does anything interesting with this knowledge is another debate because Rampage doesn’t even begin to rampage until the final third of the film, by which point you’re either too disengaged with the story they’ve been telling, or too impatient to enjoy the mayhem you’ve been waiting for.
But you’d be happy to learn that while the action is blandly put together, it’s effective. As we’ve seen with his previous movies, Peyton has a knack for large-scale set pieces, an ability which is sorely missing when he’s faced with shooting a conversation between two human beings.
This tone deafness when it comes to character development, and a smug, cutesy script which has people knowingly comment on the stupidity of what is unfolding on screen – as if this acknowledgment purges the movie of its idiocy – is sort of the only problem with Rampage.
As always, were it not for The Rock – he is absolute gold in roles such as this – it wouldn’t have merited a second thought.
Watch the Rampage trailer here: