Who would have thought several years back that one of the top box office draws when it comes to action flicks would be a WWE wrestler? I mean we had one ex-wrestler become a box office draw in Hulk Hogan but that was short lived. So maybe the reason this time around is different is a combination of charisma, self-deprecating humor, a great attitude and an ability to actually act. Yes, I’m talking about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. He’s since dropped the Rock tag an appropriately so. He’s proven himself beyond that and soared to far greater heights than those days in the ring. He’s an honest to goodness movie star now and should be graded on that alone.
Which brings me to this week’s latest Johnson movie to make its way to DVD, RAMPAGE. Based on the arcade game that those of us who grew up when people actually visited arcades rather than play games at home, the game then involved giant animals breaking buildings and eating people. This movie has that but at least it forms a story first.
Johnson plays Davis Okoye, a primatologist working at the San Diego Zoo. Not only has Davis worked with the large apes he’s made friends with the zoo’s star attraction, an albino gorilla named George. Using sign language the two communicate easily. And George often displays his wicked sense of humor at the expense of Davis.
The film opens though with a space station carrying specimens that plummet to Earth after the station explodes. Those specimens later land in various locations, one in the mountains, one in the Everglades and the final one in the pen George and the gorillas are kept in. The mountain landing infects a wolf, the Everglades an alligator and tine final one George. Each of the animals begin to change after their exposure.
The specimens were being tested in outer space to avoid legal actions by Energyne, a genetics corporation more concerned with their bottom line than the safety of those who were on the space station or pretty much anyone else on Earth. When the animals begin showing up, their desire is to capture them using a radio signal that will draw them to their location in Chicago.
Unfortunately the genetic mutations the animals are going through also leaves them more agitated than normal and George soon breaks out of his cage and runs amok through the zoo before being taken down by a team that arrives with tranquilizers. This is a secret government organization run by agent Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who takes not just George but Davis and Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), an ex-employee of Energyne and geneticists who wants to help with the animals.
Of course as things pan out in the movies George escapes making his way to Chicago and the other two animals head that direction as well. The end result of their call there is the classic game coming true as they begin destroying buildings left and right, terrorizing anyone in their path and facing off against the US military. Only Davis and Kate have a solution but will they be able to carry it out in time?
The movie relies heavily on three things, the first of which is a heavy duty dose of suspending reality. This would include everything from the buddy relationship between George and Davis to the monstrous sized animals on hand. The second is the constant battering that a character like Davis takes without slowing down at any point. Short of Superman no one is that impervious to injury and pain. Lastly the special effects on display here are what drive most of the story. And they are amazing to see as the monsters rise up from regular size to huge altering along the way. The destruction that follows in their wake is also special effects at their best.
The movie wouldn’t work if you didn’t have that human element there, that bond between Davis and George that makes the ape such a sympathetic character. The changes are not something he wants or has any idea of how to deal with. And whether or not the changes can be reversed is also up in the air as he heads toward Chicago. As viewers we feel for the ape and for Davis who might be faced with no other option than to take down the friend he made in George.
The movie is pure popcorn fun and better than I expected. Hollywood has a history of messing up movies based on video games. They’ve done this one right though and the odds are that you’ll have a blast watching this one. A movie the whole family can watch with a few minor items (like a single finger communication). This is one of those movies I think I could easily watch more than once.