King Kong is a lightweight compared to the trio of mutant creatures who climb atop Chicago’s famed Willis Tower in Rampage, a cinematic adaptation of the classic arcade game that emphasizes big-budget spectacle over narrative substance.
Made for those who feel the Planet of the Apes movies are too intellectually taxing, this adventure dials down the character depth and emotional complexity while ramping up the genetically modified primate aggression. The exhausting barrage of mayhem and noise borders on sensory overload.
It begins with a bond between George, an intelligent albino gorilla, and Davis (Dwayne Johnson), a primatologist at a California wildlife refuge. An ape whisperer of sorts, his dedication to the animals is unmatched. It helps that he also knows martial arts, can fly a helicopter, and knows how to operate high-grade military weaponry.
Those skills come in handy after a failed experiment by a corrupt pharmaceutical firm causes three satellites to crash and unleash a pathogen that greatly enhances the size and predatory instincts of the animals it infects. That includes not only George but other predators who converge on Chicago as Davis and a disgraced genetic engineer (Naomie Harris) scramble to find the antidote.
The cartoonish villains personify corporate greed or government buffoonery, including a morally bankrupt CEO (Malin Akerman) trying to maximize profits as the world crumbles around her, and a snarky federal agent (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who eventually sees the light.
It’s a labored set-up for what everybody wants to see — and what most closely resembles the source material — an inevitable showdown between man and beast accompanied by plenty of urban destruction and with the future of Earth at stake.
The film’s special effects are terrific, and some of the action sequences are intense. One highlight involves George breaking free from a cage in mid-flight, causing a transport plane to spiral out of control.
Johnson, re-teaming with director Brad Peyton (San Andreas), conveys an almost effortless charisma and magnetic screen presence, but not to the extent that he can generate much sympathy for the film’s two-legged characters.
Instead, like the game, we’re more apt to root for the creatures. The screenplay doesn’t provide much genuine suspense, so by incorporating considerably more brawn than brains, Rampage just becomes a zoo.