Though I am not one, I share a trait with all straight men. That is: there is a place in my heart reserved for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a certain curiosity about his strong (to the point of life-threatening) physical abilities. (To quote one of the many Rampage trailers and a scene of gratuitous violence in the film: “That’s a big arm.”) This superficiality, partnered with his universal charm—name a dude with more Kid’s Choice Awards who your mom, uncle and grandpappy all enjoy watching on the silver screen, I fucking dare you—is what drew me to a Monday night showing of the aforementioned video game movie, an opening week screening attended by a dozen other lonely laymen in the epicenter of gentrified Brooklyn. It was total garbage and idiotically enjoyable, like fast food to the skull.
Disclaimer: There are more than a handful of spoilers here, but it’s not like you were planning on seeing this movie anyway. Right?
Full disclosure: I played Rampage, the game, religiously as a child, both in arcades and in the 1997 Nintendo 64 version. Plot meant nothing then, just as it does in Rampage, the movie—I pressed “B” to skip the shit about Scumlabs taking over whatever fictitious city and did what the game intended me to do—play as one of three monsters, a lizard named Lizzie, a gorilla named George and a wolf named Ralph, and broke shit.
Imagine my surprise in learning that was enough material to birth a Rampage movie, let alone one starring my beloved Dwayne. Perhaps this film is a celebration of the realization that we, as a culture, have reached peak mindlessness, but the lines between camp and sincerity blur the second you realize this movie is not about the video game at all, but The Rock’s love affair with an albino gorilla, canonically named George, who he saved from poachers as a child. (That’s a narrative you learn all about after George endures CRISPR genetic editing, crashes a military grade Lockheed Martin and somehow survives, as revealed to geneticist Kate Caldwell, played by Naomie Harris. This film has a really incredible cast, for what it’s worth—Joe Manganiello gets killed by a wolf in his second appearance on screen.)
Here’s the skinny: The Rock is Davis Okoye, a primatologist/former U.S. Army Special Forces big shot at the San Diego wildlife preserve who likes animals more than people. (Please commit that latter fact to memory because it is the only consistency in this movie and they really want you to know—he fucking loves monkeys.) Okoye is just living his Simian-phile life when a space station owned by gene manipulation corporation Energyne all but disintegrates after a rat experiment goes wrong—but in the company’s case, right, because they’re evil bastards, and making big, powerful, weaponized rats is a billion dollar business, baby. After the station explodes, three vials of the bright green, gaseous chemical compound that made the rat swoll is shot into the earth (well, America. It’s always America). They hit a wolf in Wyoming, a croc in the Everglades and, of course, The Rock’s giant albino gorilla friend in sunny SoCal.
George grows two feet and 500 pounds over the course of one evening! He also murders a grizzly bear! All three of the animals’ genetic makeup explodes with the characteristics of the strongest animals on the planet (including regenerative properties, which is goddamn terrifying), and it makes them super aggressive, and only Okoye and Caldwell can stop them! And that’s the movie! It’s unclear how Rampage lasts more than 30 minutes, but it tops out at about two hours of my life I’ll never get back, made memorable only by its unbeatable ridiculousness. (It’s all but ironic that near-ish the film’s end, after almost dying for the 47th time—in this particular moment, from “sliding” down a crumbling Sears Tower in half a helicopter like “riding an avalanche”—The Rock mutters, “I need a drink.” Me too.)
Rampage teeters a line between Jurassic Park, a particular 1998 episode of Pokémon, Island of the Giant Pokémon, and Godzilla, but also fascism, genetic supremacy (Hmmm) and some other dystopian and currently really realistic concerns. It doesn’t seek to say anything, which is a good thing, because it accomplishes nothing particularly well. Fans of The Rock will be delighted to see Okoye victorious after taking a bullet straight to the gut, after his albino monkey friend stabs the indestructible alligator monster in the eye, after said reptile devours the flying, 30 foot wolf, saving the city of Chicago and, somehow, the world. Oh, and the gorilla doesn’t die, so the Rock gets his friend back. All’s well.
I imagine this would be a good movie for anyone who likes to to watch things explode and people die (like, say, in...a video game?) I, for one, relish in lowest-common dominator shit, so if you can distill enjoyment from its overwhelming “How is this not parody?” tackiness, then you, too, will get something kick-adjacent outta Rampage. If not, well, at least The Rock’s hot.