The Rock is just a stone’s throw from perfection in latest blockbuster film
The Santa Clara
April 19, 2018
The body-count in “Rampage,” Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s latest blockbuster, is incalculable. The film’s climax features—I hope I’m not spoiling anything—massive, mutated predators laying waste to Chicago, ripping apart skyscrapers and throwing cars and helicopters around as easily as you or I might toss a football. While at one point a huge gorilla scales a tower and grips a damsel-in-distress into his fist, the film nods less to “Godzilla” than it does to the fantasies of a child.
This isn’t to say that “Rampage” is a film that rejects cinematic tradition and grand value, because it certainly embraces both. Above all, this is a movie concerned with imagination and guileless entertainment. Don’t come to the theater expecting a hefty or embittered thriller. “Rampage” leaves all that on the wayside in favor of friendship, determination and honesty. If this reads like a kid’s movie, that’s because it kind of is, with some added gore and innuendo to earn its PG-13 rating.
For starters, the film’s sense of humor is boyish. The biggest laugh of the screening came from George, the gorilla main character who speaks in sign language, giving Johnson the middle finger—and then again, and then again.
Some lightly-established political commentary targeted towards corporatocracy provides some better quips. “You can’t liquidate every problem you have!” is one memorable line, as well as one government agent sarcastically comforting a corporate boss, “Complicity’s never a crime, right?” which is greeted with an enthusiastic yet clueless, “Yup!” but the jokes in “Rampage” largely rest in the physical humor realm. Only right for a movie that could be perfectly described as “physical”—every onscreen impact is visceral, each emotion acted immediately bubbles to the surface and each shot is functional and sharp.
By far, the most physical component of the film is the protagonist himself—The Rock.
Johnson’s relatively recent foray into movie production is one of very few “feel good” stories in today’s film industry. Seven Bucks Productions—its name a nod to Johnson’s humble origins, having only $7 to his name at the dawn of his wrestling career—has produced every film in which Johnson has been featured in since 2016. There have been six of them, to be exact, most notably “Baywatch” and last year’s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.” Additionally, two more are still on the way in 2018, with many more slated for release over the next couple of years.
Johnson’s brand is one that worships at the altar of hard work. Besides the constant film projects, Johnson’s Instagram account is a relentless update stream of 4 a.m. workouts and homages to the everyday working class. All of this might seem overbearing, but Johnson has the unique ability to ground his successes, and the constantly-trumpeted work that achieved them, with undeniable charisma.
In “Rampage,” once again, The Rock captivates with a forceful, and clearly physical performance. I was reminded of Samuel L. Jackson when watching this film: Is Johnson actually a good actor, or does he, like Jackson, thrive because he only plays versions of himself? Either way, he is a pleasure here and delivers a consistently enjoyable screen presence even as chaos (also consistently enjoyable) erupts around him.
A number of Johnson’s most recent action movies, “San Andreas” in particular, have been criticized for their abject “destruction porn” nature; large-scale disasters are deconflated to amusement park attractions and their accompanying death toll is barely nodded to, let alone given significant screen time or contemplation. For what it is worth, however, Johnson’s films are not the belabored social metaphors that other modern action movies fancy themselves as.
“Rampage” is a feel-good effort, and any death and destruction is there to raise the audience’s heart-rate for some clean fun before the wholesome conclusion—Chicago in rubble, Johnson and co-star Naomie Harris decide not to dwell on the negative and, instead, focus on the lives they did manage to save. In the background, we see the gorilla, George, delicately placing stranded survivors on his palm and delivering them safely to ground-level. If the whole affair seems contrived to you, you’re probably not very fun at parties.
Contact Peter Schutz at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.