MOVIE BUFF-ET: ‘Rampage’ delivers big-budget B-movie adventure

Warner Bros.

If you are looking for a movie to enlighten or edify you, then latest Dewayne “The Rock” Johnson movie “Ramage” is not what you are looking for in the slightest.

However, if you like mindless action and adventure that’s as forgettable and nutritious as the last fluffy cone of cotton candy that you ate, then you might like “Rampage.”

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The film, loosely based on the video-game series, has a plot that would make the B-movies of the 1950s blush, but it’s a movie with glorious special effects that lets “The Rock” shine with all of his considerable wattage. Give director Brad Peyton credit for getting the most out of a very flimsy idea and script.

Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman) and Brett Wyden (Jake Lacy) are the owner of a gene-manipulation company that is conducting dangerous research on a space station to flaunt government regulations.

When a mishap stemming from the research destroys the space station, three canisters of a highly dangerous pathogen land in the United States. The canisters leak and end up infecting three animals — a wolf, a crocodile, and an albino ape — not only making them grow to monstrous sizes, but also mutating and making them hyper aggressive.

The Wydens want to capture the infected animals to reap some sort of financial gain so they use a massive transmitter, situated at the top of their office building in Chicago, to emit a beacon that just happens to attract the gigantic and angry animals. The beasts rampage their way to Chicago for a showdown of epic proportions.

Yeah, it’s crazy.

Now, the infected albino ape is George, whom Johnson’s character, Davis, a primatologist at the San Diego Zoo who also happens to be an ex-U.S. Special Forces soldier, saved from poachers as a baby. David likes animals better than he likes people, and George is his favorite. When the ape cuts a destructive swath across the country to follow the beacon, Davis and Dr. Cate Caldwell follow him in an attempt to help George and save Chicago.

When the animals hit Chicago, mayhem ensues for the last third of the film. If you like to watch mutated animals maul each other as well as a fair share of tiny citizens and soldiers, you’ll enjoy the climax of the movie. The special effects truly are fantastic, and the “The Rock” is hard not to like even in a silly movie like this one.

The film truly embraces its B-movie roots, and leans into the dopiness of the script. I won’t call this movie bad, but the production only aspired to be low-hanging fruit.

Admittedly, I had fun watching it, but I’m kind of guilty that I did.

(PG-13) 1 hr. 47 min.
Grade: C

Classic Corner

Warner Bros.

Superman: The Movie (1978)

Superman turned 80 years old on April 18, and in celebration of the character’s landmark anniversary, it seems appropriate to look back at the grandfather of big-budget, super-hero movies “Superman: The Movie.”

Off the bat, I’ll let you know I’m biased concerning this film. While I wouldn’t rank it among my top 10 favorite films, I would rate seeing it as a 10-year-old kid with my older brother as one of my favorite movie-going experiences. I have never anticipated a movie more than I did seeing “Superman: The Movie,” unless it was its sequel three years later.

The film’s marketing slogan was “You Will Believe a Man Can Fly.” With the advances in technology, that doesn’t hold true today, but it was as close to being on-target as possible when the film opened nationally on Dec. 15, 1978.

Directed Richard Donner (“Lethal Weapon” series, “The Omen,” “Goonies”) did all fans of Superman a favor by taking the character and the movie as seriously as he could for the period, and the film he shot was an epic parable of heart, hope, and humanity.

Marlon Brando, who played Superman’s biological father Jor-El; Glenn Ford, who played Superman’s adoptive Earthly father Jonathan Kent; and Gene Hackman, who played Superman’s arch-enemy Lex Luthor;, gave the film legitimacy and clout, but the movie belongs to then newcomer Christopher Reeve, who convincingly played the dual role of Superman and Clark Kent.

Without Reeve’s convincing turns as both characters, the film would have flopped instead of becoming the blockbuster it was in 1978-79 and the classic that it is today.

Just as Superman was the blueprint for all super heroes that followed his first appearance in Action Comes No. 1 back in 1938, Donner’s film became the blueprint for the super-hero origin film.

While we could all see through the flimsy Clark Kent disguise, Reeve’s performance as Superman and Clark was distinctive enough for you to go along with the program and suspend belief. His Clark was nerdy and klutzy enough to sell the gag, and his Superman radiated good will and hope. It’s an indelible performance that was the engine behind the film.

Likewise, Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane worked splendidly in the context of the film, and her chemistry with Reeve was fun to watch both as a kid and an adult. Lois’ awe of Superman parallels Clark’s awe with her, setting up a wonderful love triangle that’s charming and poignant.

The scene where Superman makes his first public appearance to save a falling Lois from a crashing helicopter is thrilling, and it contains one of the best lines in any super-hero movie. Lois responds to Superman’s assertion, “Don’t worry, I’ve got you” with the classic, “You’ve got me? Who’s got you?”

Several sequences of Superman thwarting crimes across the city of Metropolis with his amazing powers follow, even one of him saving a cat out of a tree. The scenes are exciting, humorous, and wonderful. They truly capture the heart of Superman’s heroism.

Luthor and particularly his bumbling stooge of an underling Otis (Ned Beatty) will feel cheesy to a modern audience. Their broad performances were what Donner was going for, and are well played, but in hindsight, they feel outlandishly over the top today, stopping just short of mustache twirling.

However, Luthor’s fiendish gambit to increase the value of his land holdings in California by firing one nuclear missile southwest at the San Andreas Fault and the other northeast to New Jersey not only tests Superman’s powers but also his heart and conscience.

Superman wants to stop the missile headed for California first because Lois and his pal Jimmy Olsen are there, but in order to escape a Kryptonite trap, he is forced to promise to stop the one headed for New Jersey first. By keeping his promise, Superman sets up a scenario that has dire consequences for Lois.

The quandary was so well conceived that “The Dark Night” director Christopher Nolan had his Joker devise a somewhat similar scenario for Batman to face as a tip of the hat in his 2008 film, which many critics hail as the best super-hero movie to date.

Many have issues with the plausibility of climax of the film where Superman flies counterclockwise around the Earth to turn back time so he can save Lois. However, by concentrating on that detail, they miss the heart of the movie and the humanity of the character.

The film should be viewed from the angle of a parable about the extent of Superman’s love and humanity instead of whether the film’s depiction of science makes senses. Obviously, the science is off. A man flies in movie. Science is thrown out the door from the get go.

As a boy, I missed the connection between the climax and the opening of the picture, set on Superman’s home planet Krypton and in his Earthly hometown of Smallville, and the distinct contrasts Donner drew in their depictions.

Shot with an icy blue hue, Krypton is sterile and bleak, while Smallville with its golden tone, is warm and hearty. The contrast is an excellent touch by Donner, one the comics had never broached at that time.

Superman is a being born of Krypton, but he was nurtured on Earth.

When Superman chooses to save Lois and disregard the Kryptonian wisdom of Jor-El, who instructed his son not alter the natural course of human events, the Man of Steel opts for the ways his adoptive home planet and the love instilled in him by the Kents instead of the stoicism and aloofness of his Kryptonian heritage.

That choice shows that Superman’s greatest power doesn’t stem from his Kryptonian physiology, but rather from his very human conscience. Superman’s humanity makes him the hero he is, not just his great powers.

What a wonderful parable for 1978 or any day.