Most people go to the movies for escapism. I’ll admit, even I sometimes just want to shut my brain off and not think about anything or two hours, just have fun. But, there’s a line.

I wasn’t expecting much from Rampage, but I was hopeful; I know there wasn’t much of a story to the stand-up arcade classic, but something a little less contrived than what a high schooler could look up on YouTube and learn in five minutes would’ve been nice…

CRISPR is a very real and—hopefully—someday very applicable technology, maybe used to write out some of the more fatal defects in the human genome. However, there’s that Jurassic Park potential for things to go horribly, hectically awry that Hollywood sifts through all the smarty, sciencey bits to drool on and make a movie about—research and common sense be damned. There are some things that Rampage does well, but I like starting from the bottom, and working my way up; end on a high note.

I could’ve done without Malin Akerman (Watchmen, 27 Dresses), however much that hurts to say. She was an exposition machine, one of those “mwua-ha-ha-ha” villains that have grown so exhausting in these days of richer samplings—more twisted, complex definitions of “bad” and “evil”. She, honestly, doesn’t contribute anything more to the plot in her phoned-in performance than an exposition machine and a shoe-in for Most Likely to Die By the End. We pick up at the end of what could’ve been an arguably-better movie—an Alien-style space thriller (monster included)—and cut to the terrestrial nonsense. I did like seeing how that scene was done, though, in the Blu-Ray special features—a featurette called “Actors In Action” detailed the three-day shoot exquisitely. In this age of digital effects, I’ll never not be astonished by the lengths some filmmakers (even the schlockier ones) go to to achieve that realness factor.

What a great segue…

Weta Workshop handled the digital aspect of this film—therefore, about 80% of what we see on-screen is their doing. For that, I should’ve rated the whole thing higher than I did, but astounding CGI and performance capture does not for a wholesome film make. Their work with mo-capping actor Jason Liles (Death Note (2017), Conjuring 2) to achieve the “more human” believability of simian semi-protagonist George is fantastic. He looks as good—if not better. Terry Notary—the same guy whom worked with Andy Serkis on all the new Planet of the Apes films—came in to coach Liles on how to properly channel his “inner” silverback gorilla. Neat. In the segment “Bringing George to Life”, it was important to the filmmakers to get that performance capture just right, so the audience could identify with and feel for George and Davis (Dwayne Johnson—no filmography necessary)’s bond. They nailed it. Easily one of the better things about this movie—the mo-cap and the CG involved, plus the endearing quality of the ape character are definite wins. Looking back on Liles’s brief résumé, I can see now why this part fit him so well.

Smooth camerawork, here. Director Brad Peyton (San Andreas, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) had his eye on every angle, when shooting. A couple of the featurettes on the Blu-Ray—“Attack on Chicago” and “Not Just A Game Anymore”—detail incorporating the monsters into this world, bringing them to life on-screen, and the amount of time and effort and precision (again, moreso on Weta’s part) in the drawn-out Chicago finale. Closing down entire streets, the iconic drawbridges, and nailing the Willis Tower’s construction dynamic is no small feat; for that, I can nod appreciation for the work put in.

However, my suspension of disbelief took a nose-dive very early-on—too early for me to recall—and there was no coming back.

Dwayne Johnson is great, as is Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Walking Dead)—so much so that his character inspired me to write a similar, cocky cowboy type. Their dynamic throughout is engaging and cool, and I would’ve liked to see more of that. Maybe even just that.

Yes, this movie has a problem with finding a focus; is it a sci-fi thriller akin to Jurassic World, raising the terrible, apocalyptic questions about our lab experiments becoming to ungainly? or an epic, action-adventure (a label so nonchalant and yawn-inspiring in its over-use) amalgam of different—yet samey—monster movie tropes and centerpieces as to be called “fan-fiction”?

Jury’s still out.

What I can say about Rampage is, it’s a good popcorn flick. Meta, too, at times, where the higher-functioning members of the audience can jerk their chins and grin at the play going on with the ridiculousness of everything else. However, lapses in time, jumpy setting titles (calm down, Li’l Michael Bay…), the dispatching of faces left-and-right with no regard for potential or popularity, as far as actors go, a stumbling, fumbling first act, and the focusless approach knocked it down a few. In the aforementioned featurette, “Not Just A Game Anymore”, there was brief mention of a literal adaptation of the arcade classic—human experimentation gone awry, with the military being brought in to battle these Godzilla-type giant mutants as they tore through a city, punching holes in buildings, eating people right out of their bathtubs, and a bit of slapstick, for good measure.

Now that I’d pay to see…

Final ‘Risk Assessment: 5 out of 10.