Dumb meets Dumber
What does The Rock think of his fans? If Rampage is anything to go by, not a lot. Why, if you cared for their emotional and intellectual wellbeing, would you collaborate with known shysters like Brad Peyton (San Andreas), Toby Emmerich (Snakes on a Plane) and the brothers Strause (Alien V Predator: Requiem)? It’s as if Dwayne Johnson, to give him his Earth name, intuits that his audience are a bunch of monkeys. Worse, monkeys drawn to computer generated monkeys. Arnold Schwarzenegger, when he acquired a bit of power and box office muscle, seemed to care about his collaborators. He appeared to discriminate. It’s as if he felt he owed his fans a spectacle as grand and improbable as his fame. But The Rock, for all his screen presence and affability, seems content to be the peddler of soft quips and sanitised violence in the world of the broad, brainless blockbuster.
The guilty men and women responsible for Rampage, an adaptation of an ancient arcade game, have even denied him the status of human special effect that’s so fundamental to his appeal. If you have Johnson, he either has to be the biggest thing in your movie or a match for whatever fantastic adversary you can pit him against. When Arnie faced off against the Predator, we knew it was a technical mismatch (in favour of the alien) but we also felt that Schwarzenegger was the only man who could theoretically land a punch on that ugly motherfucker. We fancied his chances, and that imbued Predator with conflict and tension.
Here, Johnson is pitted against an impossibly large trio of monsters – a gorilla, wolf and alligator embiggened and made hostile by a gene-altering pathogen. Given the impossibility of our man taming these Kong-sized beasts, we’re left wondering what our hero’s going to do for two hours. Very little, it turns out, barring an impression of all those redundant but well-meaning humans that populate the Jurassic Park movies.
So the audience is asked to care about the mountain of muscle’s relationship with an albino gorilla made threatening by the machinations of an evil corporation spearheaded by two thin comedic characters that barely register. Along the way, en route to the part-destruction of Chicago, The Rock meets Naomi Harris’s scientist, and some hostility from the military, who naturally aren’t down with his message of pacification and understanding.
For once both military and audience think alike. We don’t want to see The Rock trying to reason with these beasts using sign language, we want to see him do all the shit his gorilla proxy does – spearing a gator though the eye, leaping on a wolf’s back and so on. But this, we know, wouldn’t be credible, so you have a story sold on the promise of The Rock fighting monsters in which he lends a diversionary hand in the closing ten minutes.
Earlier, before boredom’s completely taken hold, there’s a hint the movie may have anticipated this problem and introduced a wild card to liven up the human story. We meet a mercenary, tasked with bringing the animals to book, who appears formidable and well-equipped to meet The Rock in a climatic fist fight; maybe even a battle in which he’s been mutated by the gene pantheon, becoming a hulk-like psychotic. But sadly this basic complication is beyond the ambition of Rampage’s creative team. Instead they kill off the only human character that poses any threat to our hero, leaving his portrayal of a compassionate and curious ape expert dangerously exposed for the remainder of the running time. Arnie, if he could move his neck, would shake his head.