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Film Review ‘Rampage’

I remember playing ‘Rampage’ as a wee lad in the year 2000 on my clunky Playstation 1. It was a straightforward game where you and a friend can play as monsters and go berserk on cities – destroying buildings, eating people and fighting off the army. Whatever little story it had was told in between levels and was this sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek parody of the media and government scare tactics that was treated more like background filler than anything else. Fast-forward 18 years later and I’m watching the Hollywood movie adaptation of that same game, a game which had absolutely no need for a big budget studio production but here we are with ‘Rampage’ the movie. It ended up being exactly what I expected it to but in this case that’s sadly not really a good thing.

A few days before a few friends and I decided on ‘Rampage’, one of them had asked – “is that the sequel to ‘San Andreas’?” ‘San Andreas’ was a earthquake disaster film also starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson so as funny as that sounded at the moment, it was understandable why he thought that. In the last three years, ‘The Rock’ has starred in over nine films all of which were borderline unwatchable or painfully mediocre. The workload has seemed to have regressed whatever acting talents he might have had along with a persistent feeling that the only character he can play is big man with big arms. He’s also constantly praised for having a lot of ‘charisma’ but I’m not sure how charismatic a primatologist, whose sole trait is that he does not like people is supposed to be.

Dumb and bloated
If you’ve watched any of the promotional material for the film you would have a basic idea of what ‘Rampage’ is about. Big man (The Rock) goes around screaming at CGI green screens for over 90 minutes, cracks a few jokes at awkward moments (none of which are remotely funny) while Saturday-morning cartoon villains ham up the big screen until their gruesome deaths. The entire plot was dumb, very dumb and it never reaches those absurd levels where its inherent stupidity becomes entertaining. There’s an over bloated backstory focusing on the gene-slicing technique that created the monsters, characters played by well-known actors who have 5 minutes of screen time and scenes where Big man (The Rock) attempts to have some sort of character development but his dull, lifeless emotions just make it seem like he’s reading from a teleprompter.
“Yeah it might have been stupid but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t entertaining” is a common audience response coming out of these types of films and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. It also doesn’t mean we can’t be objective of what aspects makes a big, dumb action movie greatly entertaining. Before the movie started, a trailer for the new ‘Mission Impossible’ played and that two and half minute trailer was more gripping and exciting than the entirety of ‘Rampage’.

That’s because even though the ‘Mission Impossible’ films maybe lacking in the story department (does anyone remember the actual plot of MI: 3 or Ghost Protocol?) the action scenes are memorable and creative. Not to mention the fact that Tom Cruise is a high caliber actor who puts a lot of effort into each of his roles. Johnson on the other hand isn’t really involved in much of the films action, that was true in the ‘Fast and Furious’ films and that’s true here as well. He’ll punch a guy or display his physic in a scene or two but in comparison to his peers – Van Damme had martial art prowess and Schwarzenegger chose much better roles in his prime.

I’m pointing this out because ‘Rampage’ showcases the rampant lack of quality present in most of Hollywood’s modern blockbusters. It’s all become so generic, so bland and so inoffensive that they in turn become completely forgettable. But audiences seem to come to expect that nowadays, when they don’t have to. Yes as a CGI spectacle, ‘Rampage’ more than passes the mark. The CGI in the first hour is fantastic and isn’t overused. It falls in quality by the time the final climatic fight scene comes around but by that time your senses are so overloaded it wouldn’t bother you as much. This doesn’t change the fact that the story is threadbare and boring, the confusing tone shifts are jarring and whatever sense of danger or tension vanishes after our protagonist (Big Man) shows more signs of being from Krypton than from planet Earth.

‘Feel good’?
The latter half of the film is filled with such wanton destruction and death I wonder how we’ve reached the point where this passes for ‘family-friendly’ entertainment. Comic-book movies may get a pass for this but I don’t see why cities getting destroyed and political power plays about the morality of bombing civilians for ‘the greater good’ is something kids should find ‘fun’. Too extreme for kids and not extreme enough for adults – that’s Johnson’s recent filmography in a nut shell and ‘Rampage’ is no different.

Finally let me just reiterate – I love big, over-the-top and campy films. Movies like ‘Predator’, ‘Day of The Dead’ and ‘Road Warrior’ are all amazing in their own way even if they don’t appear to match the standards of today’s massively budgeted CGI affairs. They’re visceral, grounded and at times legitimately funny even when the jokes were completely unintentional. I’m confident that directors and story-tellers today can still hit those high marks but for a multitude of reasons, they aren’t given the chance to.

During the PR tour for ‘Rampage’, Johnson said – “They’re gonna come to my movies and feel good”. As commendable as that statement is – ‘feel good’ is just another replacement for ‘feeling nothing’. If you come into the cinema feeling good and the movie doesn’t do anything to alter that in any way – then it’s failed. However, one thing it hasn’t failed in doing is raising the quality of Hollywood adaptations of video-game stories from excruciatingly bad to tasteless mediocrity.

By Aakash Bakaya

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