Rampage (2018)

Directed by Brad Peyton

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San Andreas must’ve been a hit because director Brad Peyton and Dwayne Johnson are at it again, this time destroying a CGI-rendered Chicago.  The antagonist this time isn’t a natural disaster but unnaturally large predators in the style of Godzilla and King Kong.  Along with the giant lizard creature and giant gorilla there is a giant wolf, so there you go.

The gorilla here is more than a monster because he has a name, George, and he’s Davis Okoye’s (Johnson) best friend.  Together they have an appealing friendship, conveyed through grunts, sign language and the middle finger.  The movie establishes early on that Davis has no real friends because he finds personal relationships different to maintain while those he conducts with animals are simple.

The movie begins with the exploding remnants of a space station where a lizard creature wreaks havoc and dead bodies float everywhere.  One last crew member remains, but soon she dies as well, somewhat in vain as the data she is meant to to protect will make it back to earth, landing in three different areas of America.  One of these lands in George’s habitat in San Diego, and it works to make him quickly grow to over 10x his normal size and become a terrifying, volatile creature.

The other villain here is a sibling couple who run some kind of big company win Chicago and who need that data.  I forget the details of their objective, but all that matters is that they are villains in suits.  If movies like this one take particular glee in one thing, it’s the take down of white collar criminals, the ones at the top of the system who try to keep others down in the muck while they benefit from the struggle.  These two here are played by Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy, and they both die in dramatic fashion.

This type of movie works like this:

  • establish normalcy and the eventual antagonist (E.A. – suits)
  • inciting incident that will introduce the immediate antagonist (I.A. – creatures)
  • the lock in in which the I.A. breaks free and wreaks havoc
  • the E.A. creates a plan to use the I.A. to their benefit, targeting an attack on the heroes which will make for a great set piece.
  • the heroes win the battle but lose momentum in the war as their ‘victory’ helps the E.A.’s end goal.
  • the E.A.’s plan sets in motion the third act climax but still forces the heroes to deal with the I.A.
  • the heroes defeat the E.A. (they get their comeuppance in what’s meant to be the biggest crowd cheering moment) but still have to deal with the I.A. which the E.A. set in motion, in other words cleaning up their mess
  • the heroes defeat the I.A. after a series of false endings or redundant endings meant to further dramatize the action.

I guess that’s not much different than a typical action movie dramatic structure, but the point is that there are two levels of antagonism, and the heroes have to defeat both.  They defeat the thing that’s used as the hook in the movie’s premise (giant creatures), and they defeat the force that’s behind that hook, which set everything in motion, in this case the greed of evil white collar criminals.

The motivating forces behind the conflict in movies like these never really matter.  They almost always boil down to variations of greed, lust for power or feelings of extreme insecurity.  The antagonism comes from the work of people who seek to do bad things, and if anything I guess these storylines suggest that the people who work the hardest are the ones who seek to do the most damage.

It’s up to Dwayne Johnson then (or often Gerard Butler) to fight back and restore a sense of balance to the world.  Like with superhero movies, the villainy and heroism are so large and absurd in order to balance each other out.  When these stories end, everything is back to normal, albeit taxes will be a little higher to cover the damage done to the city.

Rampage is based on a video game, and every aspect about this movie is silly and broad.  The good characters are supremely good and the bad are supremely bad.  The villains are selfish, the heroes are selfless.  Those heroes often have some kind of tragic backstory, implying that it takes suffering to develop empathy and that it helps to be attractive too.

Okay I’m struggling for words here.  There is nothing especially noteworthy about this movie, but I was charmed by the relationship between George and Davis.  What is it about movies that, even when nothing else works, they always manage to nail the human-animal relationship?  Is it really that easy?  Am I that easy?  George was awesome, and even as the plot mechanizations with their predictable twists and turns are fully in effect, I felt myself yanked along the slightly emotional rollercoaster.  I didn’t want to see George in pain, and when he fights that Godzilla monster to help save Davis, well dammit ain’t that just so endearing?

This is a not great movie, but it does what it says it will, the action is occasionally exciting, and George is the best costar this version of Dwayne Johnson has had in a long time.

Up Next: First Man (2018), The Old Man & the Gun (2018), Mid90s (2018)

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