Review of “Rampage”

The Energyne Corporation is run by brother and sister Clair and Brett Wyden (Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy). While publicly the company is trying to use genetic manipulation to cure disease they are actually trying to develop a bioweapon by modifying animals. They are conducting experiments onboard their private space station but that is destroyed when a mutant rat, which has grown to the size of a large dog, gets loose. The canisters containing the mutation formula are designed to survive reentry into the atmosphere and land in various locations across the country. One falls in the Everglades and is eaten by an alligator. One lands in the Wyoming wilderness and sprays a wolf with its contents. A third crashes into the gorilla habitat at the San Diego Zoo. An albino gorilla named George approaches the canister and is also sprayed with its contents. Primatologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) has been George’s keeper since he found him after poachers killed his family. He communicates with George via sign language. When George is found out of his habitat and in the grizzly bear habitat after having killed a bear, Okoye notices how much bigger George is. Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) shows up at the Okoye’s office after hearing about events at the zoo on the news. She says she works at Energyne and can help cure George. Meanwhile, the Wyden’s have sent a paramilitary team to Wyoming to retrieve the canister that fell there and the team finds the wolf has grown into an enormous and vicious killer. It wipes out the team and their helicopter with no trouble. George is in isolation because of his behavior and his increase in size. He becomes very aggressive and breaks out of his cage and nearly escapes from the zoo but is tranquilized by men in a government helicopter. They are under the command of Agent Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Russell plans on keeping George tranquilized and transports him via military plane to a facility for study. Okoye thinks that’s a bad idea and he’s right. The Wyden’s have built a failsafe into their genetic coding. They will transmit a low frequency signal from atop their skyscraper headquarters in Chicago. The animals affected by their formula will be attracted to the signal and won’t be prevented from getting to it to try and stop it as it causes them pain. They plan on letting the military kill the mutated animals then collecting samples of their blood so they can continue their research. If a few thousand people have to die in downtown Chicago, that’s just the price of business.

Based on the video game of the same name “Rampage” is about as complicated as the console quarter-eater it spawned from. Three giant monsters destroy whatever they come across and it’s up to Dwayne Johnson to stop them. There are minor problems that crop up on the path to the happy ending we know we’ll get like plane crashes, imprisonment and lies between allies that threaten a recently created partnership. All this is merely what we expect from this kind of mindless effects-heavy action/adventure. I really wanted to like it but it is just okay.

My biggest problem with “Rampage” is it doesn’t have much of a story. A combination of corporate greed and wholesale digital destruction is pretty thin as far as compelling plots go. We are treated to a massive skyscraper’s collapse and three giant monsters (plus The Rock) battling it out for dominance but it all comes off as hollow and the action gets repetitive in the film’s final act.

I realize this is a meaningless popcorn movie that is designed to be visually thrilling and the special effects are spectacular. The motion capture used to bring George to life is seamless and amazing. Much like the recent “Planet of the Apes” reboot you would be hard pressed to say there isn’t a real albino gorilla on the screen. While the other mutated creatures are also visually stunning they are given certain added features that render them more creatures of fantasy. George is just an albino gorilla that is very, very large. The visuals throughout the film are very believable from the crashing of a military transport plane to the destruction of a skyscraper. It all looks very real.

What aren’t real are the characters. Each is a type that is needed to fill a need of the paper-thin story. Johnson is, of course, the mythic hero that is the linchpin holding all the other characters (good and bad) together. He is the moral center fighting for his gorilla friend and to prevent the greedy corporation from profiting from his friend’s suffering. Naomie Harris is part damsel in distress and part hero’s conscience. She reminds him of what is true function in the story is while also giving him something to save when needed. Malin Akerman is the heartless and greedy villain. She has no redeeming qualities whatsoever and even tries to place blame on Harris’ character. Jake Lacy is also a villain but he doubles as the dumb comic relief. He is far too brainless to have concocted the villain’s evil plan on his own and is used to do some of the dirty work so the main bad guy (or in this case bad girl) doesn’t have to get her hands dirty. His purpose is to soften the evil for the audience. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is the ruler that breaks the rules. He’s a maverick that starts off as an antagonist but finds he likes the methods of the hero. No character in the film rise much above the bare minimum required of them and none of the actors turns in a particularly stellar performance.

“Rampage” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, crude gestures and brief language. There are some brutal creature on creature battles that include a couple of impaling and a beheading. There are also several nondescript human characters that are thrown great distances by the creatures to what are likely their deaths. Other people are stomped, bitten or consumed by the creatures. There is a great deal of destruction when the action moves to Chicago including several building severely damaged and one large skyscraper destroyed. George likes to “throw a bird” at Okoye and does it several times. Foul language is scattered and mild.

I like Dwayne Johnson a great deal as an actor. While most of his roles just involve him looking buff, muscular and imposing he clearly enjoys his work and seems to be a nice and likable guy. He deserves a better film than this and I think he knows that. He’s the executive producer and would have had some say in what the final script became. Perhaps the EP credit was merely a title to get him a larger paycheck. Maybe he doesn’t know the story is weak. It could be he’s saving his creative abilities for a more important project. Whatever the reason, the film is weak in some very important ways. I’d have preferred a more interesting story and compelling characters I could really invest myself in. As it is the most interesting character in “Rampage” is the digital ape.

“Rampage” gets three stars out of five.

Check out my review of “Beirut” at WIMZ.com in the “Blogs” section.

Next week I’ll see and review at least one of the follow:

I Feel Pretty–

Super Troopers 2–

Traffik–

Listen to The Fractured Frame where a couple of friends and I discuss the latest in movie, TV and streaming news. Get it wherever you download podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Spectre”

For movie fans “sequels,” “prequels” and “reboots” are often looked at as dirty words.  The complaint usually goes something like, “Aren’t there any original ideas in Hollywood anymore?”  An exception to this criticism is the James Bond franchise.  After six actors and 24 movies, fans of the series wait for the next installment with nearly unbearable anticipation and the worldwide box office for these films continues to grow to record heights.  After the brilliant “Skyfall,” expectations were understandably high for “Spectre” considering the name of a classic Bond villain was the title of the film.  At the same time, is it possible to make a movie as enjoyable as its predecessor?  Let’s find out.

After creating chaos and destruction on an unauthorized trip to Mexico City, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is suspended by his MI6 boss M (Ralph Fiennes).  M is also facing a shake-up in British intelligence with a new boss, Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), overseeing a recently merged MI5 and MI6.  Denbigh thinks the double-0 program is a relic of the past and wants it discontinued.  He also is spearheading a new intelligence sharing initiative involving nine nations.  Enlisting the aid of Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), Bond continues his off-the-books investigation he started in Mexico into an organization that appears to be involved in numerous terrorist attacks around the world.  Along the way he meets the widow of a man he killed in Mexico (Monica Bellucci), the daughter of a man that has plagued him since he became 007 (Lea Seydoux) and Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista), a mountain of a man who doesn’t think twice about killing anyone in his way.

Comparing “Spectre” to “Skyfall” is a bit unfair as the previous film had an unexpected gooey center of emotion with the relationship between Judi Dench’s M and Bond.  “Spectre” lacks that humanizing element as this adventure is a more straight-ahead action picture.  While there is romance it is more of the love-‘em-and-leave-‘em variety we have grown to expect from Bond.  Also, “Spectre” is more of an effort to reboot the mythology of Bond as this is the first time in over four decades the filmmakers have been allowed to make reference to the criminal organization of the title after a long court battle.  Connecting events across three previous films that were not necessarily written to be connected might be seen as a stretch to some; however, the references to the previous films are handled mostly visually and it isn’t the kind of distraction it might have otherwise been.

As we’ve come to expect, Daniel Craig is the epitome of detached cool as James Bond.  The character is given a few more one-liners than in previous films and Craig is more than up to the challenge of being funny in the face of beautiful women and dangerous henchmen.  Craig has been the honest face of James Bond.  He looks world-weary, tired and suspecting of everyone he can see.  Craig is the Bond I will most miss when his run is over as he is to me the most believable in the role.  I know there are those that are fans of Connery or Moore and have been unhappy with every actor chosen to play the part since; however, the difference between those films and Craig’s is so striking they may as well have been about the Revolutionary War.

Now for my issues with “Spectre:” While both Christoph Waltz and Dave Bautista are excellent as Franz Oberhauser and Mr. Hinx respectively, they are criminally underused in the film.  I understand keeping your main villains in the shadows of your trailers and TV spots but your antagonists should be front and center in the film.  The movie is nearly two and a half hours long and, while I didn’t have a stopwatch keeping track of their time, I believe both Waltz and Bautista are on screen less than most Bond baddies.  Bautista has one word in the script but he doesn’t need more as his physical presence speaks volumes.  Mr. Hinx has a fight on a train with Bond that seems to have some real danger to it.  Perhaps it was the close quarters or Hinx physical domination of Bond that made it seem so personal and perilous.  Hinx is a henchman I hope we get to see again.  Waltz is charismatic and intense in the role and should have had a greater chance to shine.  While he makes the most of his limited time I would have liked to see him more.

The underused villains are connected to my next issue with the movie:  The story seems to have been given less thought and in other films.  I can’t give too many details for this as I don’t want to spoil the movie; however, there are things I expected to see in the movie, things suggested by history and the plot, that don’t materialize and other aspects that spring from very little.  Some characters are dispatched in ways that suggest they may return but don’t.  Romances blossom in ways that aren’t supported by events.  Plot twists are telegraphed in less than subtle ways.  It sometimes feels like the locations and the stunts received a great deal more attention than the story.

As with all Bond films, the cinematography and locations are spectacular.  From a Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City to the Spectre headquarters in the middle of the desert, the movie is a travelogue of beautiful scenery shot with remarkable care.  Even the interior of a train looks luxurious and inviting when it isn’t being torn apart by a fight between Bond and Hinx.  Despite what is likely the dull nature of actual spy work, the Bond films make it look like the ultimate worldwide vacation with the occasional fight to the death thrown in to make it interesting.

“Spectre” is rated PG-13 for language, intense sequences of action, sensuality, some disturbing images and violence.  From planes chasing SUV’s to two sports cars tearing through the streets of Rome, there are several action set pieces in the film that might upset the youngest and most sensitive viewers.  There are also several fights between Bond and various people.  The most intense is the one on the train with Mr. Hinx.  There is a scene of torture that isn’t graphic but is troubling.  A couple of people get pushed out of a helicopter to their deaths.  Bond has two sex scenes but, in traditional Bond style, there is very little nudity.  Foul language is scattered and mild.

I liked “Spectre” a great deal; but, it works for the most part as a fairly standard Bond adventure.  After the enormous success of “Skyfall” there was very little chance we wouldn’t be a little disappointed by the next installment of the franchise.  With all the promise of the title and the expectations of what we might get “Spectre” comes across as somewhat paint-by-numbers when we all wanted a Picasso.  All that said, it is still a very good action/adventure movie with some interesting concepts and the promise of another chapter of the story still to be told in what would likely be Daniel Craig’s last time in the tuxedo and sports car of Bond…James Bond.

“Spectre” gets five stars but not without a few reservations.

This week, it’s the end of a franchise, a possible new holiday tradition and a crime thriller all hoping to get your entertainment dollar. I’ll see and review at least one of these films.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2—

The Night Before—

The Secret in Their Eyes—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.