Movie review: ‘Rampage’ never gets beyond the silliness

Ed Symkus More Content Now
Naomie Harris and Dwayne Johnson are having trouble believing what they’re seeing. [Warner Bros. Pictures]

At about the halfway point of this (in the words of the Internet Movie Data Base) “action adventure sci-fi” film that’s based on a silly 30-year-old video game, I jotted down a comment in my notebook: “Clichés are piling up but the action scenes make this fun to watch.”

At the end of the movie, I made another note: “No, too dumb, not enough fun.”

Now, about 12 hours later, having digested it, here’s my thinking: The filmmakers went into this with conviction. They pulled out all the stops, made use of all their toys, said to hell with meaningful dialogue and convincing acting, and created an action adventure sci-fi film that they believe will please audiences.

Also: This movie is in every way so absurd, you’ve got to see it to believe it. But there’s no real need to believe it.

The science fiction element is that a big company called Energyne developed a medical program involving genetic editing that was supposed to cure diseases, but did something else, something that would cause experiments to be halted. Of course, they kept experimenting, anyway, in secret, way up in space capsules.

Meanwhile, down on Earth, everything is great for Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) the head primatologist at the San Diego Wildlife Sanctuary, where he and in-house alpha gorilla George have developed a close relationship via sign language. Everything is probably pretty good at Everglades National Park in Florida and throughout the woodlands of Wyoming, too. At least until one of those experiments in space goes wrong ... very wrong, and capsules including a powerful pathogen fall down to the planet landing in, well, San Diego, Wyoming, and Florida, where they come in contact with animal life.

In San Diego, when George is infected, he becomes angry and starts growing in size. In Wyoming, a wolf begins to change. In Florida ... well, in Florida, we just know that there’s something going on under the water.

That experiment is called Project Rampage. It’s run by the over the top caricature of a villain Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman), who’s assisted by her toadie brother (Jake Lacy). Then there’s Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), a geneticist who used to work at Energyne but now finds herself at the side of Davis, promising him that she can find a cure for what’s happening to poor George. Add one more to this batch of characters: Agent Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a swaggering, black-suited mystery man who speaks in a sing-songy Southern accent and packs a pearl-handled pistol in his holster. All we learn about this guy is that he’s with OGA (another government agency).

This is a movie that has people talking in circles about what they’re going to do — Davis just wants to help his buddy George — then doing it, then ducking for cover when all hell regularly breaks loose. Visual effects, involving explosions, buildings, aircraft, and animal denizens of those three locations, are in overdrive. When it’s made clear that there are three infected animals, it’s suggested that the trio has an appointment in Chicago. Hold on, isn’t Chicago where Energyne is headquartered?

Before it all comes to a preposterous climax way above the streets of Illinois, the film presents some of the “best” dialogue of the year. Here are a few examples: “The first rule of dealing with hostile animals is to stay calm.” “There’s something big in the river.” “We’ve gotta get that antidote!” Then there’s my favorite. Dwayne Johnson has a choke hold on an adversary, and is tightening his grip around the guy’s carotid artery. He looks down at him and offers some advice: “That’s a big arm; don’t fight it.”

— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at


Written by Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, Adam Aztykiel; directed by Brad Peyton

With Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman

Rated PG-13