Bro-Reviews: Rampage

Arcade button mashing is more thrilling.

Earlier this year, the video game movie genre stumbled with the arrival of Tomb Raider, an uneven, overlong slog that received mixed reviews at best and disappointed at the box office. Hollywood can’t seem to get the video game movie formula down. But their was hope, as such films never had as big a movie star as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Sure, he had starred in the film adaptation of the popular video game “Doom” back in 2005, but he wasn’t a bona fide star then like he is now. Throw in the high concept idea of the video game “Rampage”, a game in which you play as giant creatures going around the world destroying everything in your path, and you’ve got a recipe for a fun, and possibly even first good video game movie, right?

Rampage sees Dwayne Johnson as Davis Okoye, a primatologist who prefers the company of animals rather than humans. His favorite animal/ friend George (* motion captured by Jason Liles*), an albino gorilla he rescued, one night becomes infected by a pathogen that causes him to grown in size and increase aggression. After numerous cases of other animals being infected by the pathogen arise, Dr. Kate Caldwell (Noami Harris), a genetic engineer, teams up with Okoye to try and find a cure before the evil Energyne Corporation, led by Claire Wyden (Malin Åkerman) and her brother Brett (Jake Lacey), unleash even more hell upon the world with their experiment: Project Rampage.

Obviously, the glaring difference from the game and this adaptation is actual animals become infected with the pathogen in the film whereas it was humans being turned into giant animals in the game. This was probably a wise decision, and it lends itself well to the relationship between George and Johnson’s character. This is surprisingly one of the best aspects of the film, as while Johnson isn’t exactly known for his acting abilities, he’s able to convey his concern for his friend and vice versa. Of course, the giant albino gorilla, giant crocodile, and giant flying wolf wrecking havoc on the city draws parallels to the game, and at times is a delight to watch. It even lends itself well to an interesting horror element that makes the film one of the most violent PG-13 rated films ever released.

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Dwayne Johnson in Rampage.

Unfortunately, for a film that’s main selling point is monstrous destruction, Rampage is confoundedly mute during some of it. Sure, there’s plenty of destruction, but it doesn’t sound or feel like you get the full brunt of the carnage unfolding. The obliteration in the film never escalates to what should be disaster movie levels, and this could be due to the fact that the film struggles to balance tones during its slog of a second act. At times, the film takes itself seriously as if it’s trying to sell us that this could actually happen, and at others it stops to be meta and lighthearted, a combination that does not mix well. The second act is the main area where we see these jarring tonal shifts, and after countless male posturing confrontations, mistimed comedy, and failed attempts at developing characters, Rampage unforgivably becomes a bore.

While Dwayne Johnson may have the desire to be the next global action star, al la Arnold Schwarzenegger, he’s no Schwarzenegger. Jeffrey Dean Morgan should change his name to Jeffrey “Lean” Morgan, as his performance consists of the tendencies of his Negan character from The Walking Dead combined with an impersonation of Tommy Lee Jones from The Fugitive. The result is an awkward cowboy persona that feels like he’s in a completely different movie. Naomi Harris and Joe Manganiello are utterly wasted in the film and barely even resonate, while Malin Åkerman and Jake Lacy come across as Team Rocket from Pokémon and also feel out of place.

Rampage is yet another missed opportunity for the video game movie genre. A film boasting the talents of Dwayne Johnson, a blockbuster budget, and a high concept like the “Rampage” video game should have at the very least been fun. The result we get is an uneven disaster movie that hopes it can save itself by recklessly button mashing its way through its climax. You’d better off going to the arcade and doing that with the game the movie drew its inspiration from, at least you might get some thrills attempting to beat the high score.

Rating: 2 out of 4 stars. Rent it.

Rampage stars Dwayne Johnson, Naomi Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin  Åkerman, Jake Lacey, Marley Shelton, and Joe Manganiello. It is in theaters now.

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Bro-Reviews: Ready Player One

The ultimate 80s video game.

It’s been discussed here before, but it bears reminding; adapting popular books into films is a tall task. Not only do you have to please the fans of the source material, but also make it accessible for general audiences to enjoy as well. The latest book to get the big screen treatment is Earnest Cline’s “Ready Player One”, a futuristic science fiction novel published in 2011 that gained “unfilmable” status as soon as the idea was brought up. Of course, the only man willing to tackle this challenge head on was legendary Hollywood blockbuster director Steven Spielberg, as the film became a passion project of his that took years to develop and film. Now, the “unfilmable” Ready Player One has arrived in theaters, hoping to capture the attention of the novel’s fans and reignite the imaginations of general audiences everywhere like the director has done for decades upon decades.

Ready Player One takes place in the year 2045, where much of the earth’s population now lives in slum-like conditions due to overpopulation, climate change, and corruption. To escape the hardships of reality, people spend most of their days in a virtual reality platform called OASIS, created by the late innovator James Halliday (Mark Rylance). Before his death, Halliday created a game within OASIS called “Anorak’s Quest”, wherein easter eggs are hidden throughout the virtual reality world, and the person who collects all the easter eggs gains control of OASIS. This attracts normal everyday users of the platform called “Gunters”, including Columbus, Ohio resident Wade Wilson (Tye Sheridan), and an army of soldiers called “Sixers” controlled by the leading creator of virtual reality equipment, Innovative Online Industries, and their CEO, Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn). With such high stakes on the line, it’s a race to find all of the easter eggs and gain control of not only OASIS, but also potentially the world.

There’s no doubt Ready Player One is a blast from the past, an 80s type film for the present generation’s enjoyment. Spielberg, when he doesn’t want to lecture a history class, still knows what puts butts in the seats: a good story, relatable characters, and blockbuster thrills. In regards to most of those categories, Ready Player One delivers on an epic scale. OASIS is a full blown spectacle of special effects, with animation so rendered and crisp you feel as if you too are part of this virtual reality. The action scenes that occur in this realm are nothing short of jaw dropping, whether it’s a race featuring King Kong standing in ones path to the finish line or the films’ the final battle sequence, only a true craftsman like Spielberg could handle such awe inspiring action.

One of the more intriguing aspects to the film is its dependency on pop culture references. There are so many easter eggs and nods to the 1980s, a decade Spielberg directed films dominated, throughout the film. It definitely draws a parallel to today’s pop culture obsessed world, somewhat of a biting commentary that our current habits will only be expanded to new levels in the future and in the soon to be virtual reality driven society.

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Ready Player One.

While the film doesn’t boast any A-list stars, the ensemble cast delivers. Tye Sheridan makes for a compelling protagonist in the film, and his chemistry with Olivia Cooke is apparent. Ben Mendelsohn may be somewhat of a generic villain, but he’s having a blast in the role of a corporate suite. Mark Rylance and Steven Spielberg appear to be attached at the hip these days, but Rylance once again does a remarkable job embodying the spirit of a film. The rest of the ensemble, consisting of Simon Pegg, T.J. Miller, and Lena Waithe, also hit their marks, making for a diverse, well rounded cast.

While the story definitely sets up for great visuals and special effects, it does take a little getting used to the visual dependent film, and could be overwhelmingly vibrant for some. The story itself has also been explored before not only in other science fiction novels, but in other films as well. This means its general themes can be pinpointed quickly, and audiences get a general feel for where the film is going over its 140 run time.

Even with the aforementioned faults of the film, Ready Player One is old school blockbuster filmmaking from a director who keeps finding ways to out-do himself. It’s a visually striking triumph that should not only please fans of the novel, but also general audiences deprived of such good quality films. Ready Player One is the ultimate 80s video game, a great reminder from the legendary Steven Spielberg that he’s not slowing down anytime soon, and a reminder of why we go to the movies; to escape the plight of reality for a short period of time, only this time it’s not just to theaters, but to OASIS as well.

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars. Pay full price.

Ready Player One stars Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe,Win Morisaki, Simon Pegg, and Mark Rylance. It is in theaters March 29th.

Bro-Reviews: Tomb Raider

More like Time Raider.

The video game movie appears to be a genre of film that Hollywood can’t seem to get right. A majority of them rank as bad and don’t rise above guilty pleasure status (*Doom, Mortal Kombat), and still represents a challenge for Hollywood to conquer. Despite it being a critical failure, the most successful and highest grossing video game adaptation of all time remains Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, which featured an iconic turn from starlet Angelina Jolie as the popular character. 15 years after its unsuccessful sequel, Lara Croft Tom Raider: The Cradle of Life, Hollywood has decided to give the character another try, but this time in a more realistic fashion much like the successful 2013 video game reboot in 2018’s Tomb Raider.

Tomb Raider sees Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) struggling to make ends meet despite being the heiress to her father’s, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), estate. She struggles with this decision due to her belief her father is still alive despite his disappearance on an expedition looking for Himiko, the Queen of Yamatai whose legend proclaims she was buried alive by her generals due to her ability to kill anyone she touched. In a video recorded message Lara finds at her former home, her father proclaims a group called Trinity, led by Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), intends to uncover Himoko’s tomb and use her powers for a global genocide, and must be stopped. Lara sets off for an adventure with the help of Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), a ship captain, to find the island where Himiko is buried and stop Trinity before the genocide ensues.

In regards to its likeness to the recently rebooted 2013 video game and its 2015 sequel, Tomb Raider definitely nails the look. Alicia Vikander looks the part of the re-imagined Croft, and her physicality is put on full display in a fashion in which you fear for her safety and feel all the bruising punishment she endures throughout the film. This makes for some impressive action sequences, as the dangers of the jungle and the tomb she explores present various challenges but bear a striking resemblance to the games, making it a true adaptation.

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Alicia Vikander in Tomb Raider.

Unfortunately, it takes way too long to get to this point, as the movie spends an inexcusable amount of time being boring in its attempt to set-up Lara’s back story Batman Begins-style instead of actually delivering what we came to see: Lara Croft raiding tombs. Instead, we get to see Croft participate in trivial bike races for money to help clear her debt (*because that was everyone’s favorite part of the “Tomb Raider” games) and her pout over being the heiress to a company and her daddy-dependent issues. To make matters worse, its not until the last 30 minutes of this overlong slog that we get to seeing any action in a tomb, a surprising development for a movie titled TOMB RAIDER based on the video game of the same name.

While Vikander nails the new look of the character, she doesn’t have the same screen presence as Angelina Jolie, and isn’t quite an action star in the making. Dominic West looks like he was dragged into being in the film, and is straining to appear happy to be there. Kristin Scott Thomas is thoroughly wasted in the film, that is until a preposterous Marvel-esque stinger/ reveal towards the end. The only two who manage to get anything out of their roles are Goggins and Wu, because a bored Goggins is still somewhat compelling and Wu is woefully underused despite his laid-back charisma.

Tomb Raider cannot break the curse of the video-game movie. Its an overlong slog and a sorry excuse for an action movie attempting to capitalize on the recent resurgence of the women’s empowerment movement. Sure, the film resembles the game in regards to its environments and look of its starlet, but it seems as if the filmmakers chose to focus solely on the aesthetics of the game instead of the actual game play, which will leave fans of the game wishing they stayed home and turned on their Playstation instead. In short, Tomb Raider doesn’t spend much time doing what its title suggests it should, and should be regarded as a “Time Raider” instead.

Rating: 1.5 out of 4 stars. Skip it.

Tomb Raider stars Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Derek Jacobi, and Kristin Scott Thomas. It is in theaters March 16th.

 

Bro-Reviews: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Slightly better than the Guns ‘N Roses song.

It may be hard to believe, but the origin of Jumanji isn’t the 1995 Robin Williams film or the board game. “Jumanji” started off as 1981 children’s book written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg. Over a decade later, it somehow got turned into a board game and then a Robin Williams vehicle, which was actually much darker and scarier than we remembered. Jumanji never saw a sequel, until Sony decided to capitalize on 90s nostalgia and announced they were rebooting the film for the sole reason that its name alone is still a recognizable property. Sony upped the ante however, by casting A-list stars in Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Kevin Hart, and Jack Black, and led many to believe reviving this property would be a worthwhile venture.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle starts off in 1996, where a father discovers a board game titled “Jumanji” and brings it home to his son, where it mysteriously turns into a video game and the son disappears soon after. Flash forward to the present day, where a cowardly nerd (Alex Wolf), a jock struggling with grades (Ser’Darius Blain), a smartphone dependent beauty (Madison Iseman), and a shy outsider (Morgan Turner) all find themselves in after school detention. It is there they discover the Jumanji video game, and are sucked into it as their polar opposite personality: a masculine hero (Dwayne Johnson), a short statured sidekick (Kevin Hart), a middle-aged fat man (Jack Black), and a butt kicking bombshell (Karen Gillian) respectively. In order to escape, they must complete the game, or risk being trapped in it forever.

While I recall memories of flipping through the children’s book when I was young, the 1995 Robin Williams film never stuck with me. So as a person who doesn’t have a strong affinity for the original film, I didn’t really care what they did with this unnecessary re-boot/ re-imagining. The set-up we have here is very Breakfast Club-esque, which at first comes off as contrived. It doesn’t help that the stereotypes for each real-world character are so over the top, with the nerd being overtly wimpy, the jock being a black teen who will get kicked off the football team if his grades don’t improve, the phone dependent popular girl being a vapid blonde, and the somehow unpopular but cute outsider being the one who challenges authority but then reverts back to being timid. Even though this set-up doesn’t last very long, you can’t wait to ditch the losers club finally get to our destination of the jungle with the A-list cast.

Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, and Dwayne Johnson in “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.”

Once we get to the jungle, it’s a welcome change of pace, as each of the stereotyped teens interacting with each other in their new avatars is a delight. Obviously his storied career in comedy helps, but Jack Black comes across best as a middle aged obese man with the mannerisms of a ditzy social media obsessed teenage girl. Every time he comes on screen he’s a riot, and it’s nice to see Jack Black back after a long period of taking more serious roles and unfunny star vehicles (*cough* Gulliver’s Travels *cough*). Kevin Hart remains as screechy as ever, but his shtick still works well here and continues to be the go-to man in comedy. Even Nick Jonas shows off his chops in the film, and proves there’s life after the Jonas Brothers and his solo music career.

Not all the characters come across as memorable, however. It’s nice to finally see Karen Gillan without her blue makeup on when she’s Nebula in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but she doesn’t really resonate much other than her butt-kicking action sequences. Even Dwayne Johnson, arguably the biggest movie star on the planet, is fairly unremarkable in the film. Sure, it’s funny the first couple of times the hulking man acts insecure and sheepish, but in his attempt to become the next Arnold Schwarzenegger, somewhere along the way of filming this film he left his charisma at home. Even more forgettable than them is the villain, played by a drugged-out looking Bobby Cannavale. I’d attribute his lackluster villainous role to the fact that most video games’ main villains are fairly monotonous but that would be giving the filmmakers too much credit.

Even the big budget action sequences are meant to be ridiculous and thrilling much like a video game, but they never reach a level happening enough to classify them as entertaining. If anything, they’re just silly. The main highlight of the film other than Black and Hart is the character’s realizations that they can be the avatars they are in the game in their everyday lives as well. There’s something sweet and genuine about this realization that shows the film has some heart, and is a good lesson for young kids and teenagers out there who may be afraid to break out of their comfort zones. In that regard, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle proves there was something to be gained by re-booting/ re-imagining the otherwise bland Robin Williams 1995 version.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle may be on the whole an unwarranted project, but there have been more egregious re-boots/ re-makes. When the film focuses on Black and Hart doing that thing they do and shows its heart by telling audiences you can be the hero you play in your video game in real life, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle proves itself as a manageable journey. It’s biggest star and blockbuster thrills, however, leave much to be desired. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle may be able to prey on and revitalize 90s nostalgia for some, but for others, it’s an expedition into the jungle you can do without.

Rating: 2/4 Stars. Rent it.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle stars Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Bobby Cannavale, Rhys Darby, Alex Wolff, Madison Iseman, Ser’Darius Blain, Morgan Turner, Missi Pyle, and Colin Hanks. It is in theaters December 20th.