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RAMPAGE is Exactly the Movie You Think It Is (Review)

Movie trailers these days fall into one of two categories: either they completely misrepresent the movie they’re trying to sell (often making it seem better than it actually is), or they give away way too much. If you’ve seen the trailer for Brad Peyton’s Rampage, based ever so loosely on the classic arcade game, then you’ve seen a trailer that breaks both of these trends. The trailers portray exactly the kind of movie you’re going to watch. Few movies meet exactly your expectations the way Rampage does.

I can’t imagine anyone was clamoring for a movie based on this particular arcade game. Rampage is a 32-year-old title that had players control giant animal monsters leveling a city for the sheer quarter-guzzling joy of it, and it could never be accused of having a lengthy lore attached to it. That’s part of what makes it a perfect vehicle for Dwayne Johnson’s particular brand of action hero, and Peyton’s particular brand of spectacle destruction. The two teamed up for 2015’s San Andreas, a movie (I can’t believe I’m saying this) far less believable than Rampage.

Johnson stars as Davis Okoye, a primatologist and former army special forces anti-poaching team member who works at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. He specifically looks after gorillas, and specifically the giant albino male named George, who communicates in sign language and even makes lewd jokes for the enjoyment of everyone. After an evil corporation’s science satellite crashes, three canisters of an experimental gene-modifying gas hit the ground, in Florida, Wyoming, and San Diego, each dosing a different wild animal (a crocodile, a wolf, and George, respectively) with growth-and-aggression-enhancing badness. The greedy corporation is run by brother-and-sister team of Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy, who have nefarious reasons for wanting to make animals real big and angry, and Davis is joined by a scientist (Naomie Harris) who may be the one person who can cure George before it’s too late.

Rampage delights in its absurdity in a way most big-budget movies don’t. Some of the dramatic moments are played so earnestly, you might be inclined to think the movie believes it, but in the next moment something over-the-top reminds you that Peyton and company are in on it. They realize how bananas (pun intended) the movie’s premise is, and they love it.

Akerman isn’t just evil, she’s the most evil; Lacy isn’t just cowardly, he’s what cowards aspire to be. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays his smiley Southern government agent with so much swagger he literally doesn’t stand up straight the entire movie. Johnson may as well be playing the his avatar in Jumanji and Hobbs from the Fast movies combined. He can perform superhuman feats of strength and can take the kind of damage that’d kill a real person 50 times over, but he’s also boy scout levels of straight-laced and concerned for his “friend George.”

George is likely the most sympathetic destroyer of things in film history. The movie leans into death and violence (very surprised it’s only PG-13), but it’s almost all done for shock and dark humor. There was always a sense of ridiculous fun with the original arcade game, and that attitude applies to the movie. The three animals destroy buildings, crush cars, toss tanks at other tanks, and bite helicopters out of the sky, all for the LOLz. Through his earlier scenes and Johnson’s belief that he can be cured, George comes away looking not so monstrous, while the wolf and especially the crocodile are clear enemies; tragic but nonetheless bad.

And so Rampage is exactly the kind of knowingly ridiculous blockbuster spectacle we were hoping to get. It’s not a fantastic movie, but it never tries to be more or less than the premise and players make it, and at well under two hours, it doesn’t overstay its welcome like the more bloated, self-serious Michael Bay-ish efforts of the world. You go in, you watch a bazoinkers movie about giant animals smashing stuff, you see the Rock bust out of his t-shirt, and you’re good to go.

3 out of 5 perfectly consistent burritos

Images: Warner Bros/New Line

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!

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