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Review: Rampage is a Monster Mash Most Mild

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An exhausted Dwayne Johnson watches a giant wolf fly through the air on webbed arms, muttering to himself “Of course the wolf flies.” Naturally. Why wouldn’t it in a movie where mysterious gasses turn predatory animals into city-destroying giants? It’s that loose logic that makes these spectacles entertaining. I only the film had a little more of that self-awareness to propel Rampage past being just a smile-worthy farce of dazzling special effects.

The plot is ripped right of the old and dusty book of 1950s B-movies. An experimental gas aboard a space station, contained within three containers, descends on the planet. It infects three creatures, turning them into angry mutants that just can’t resist that urge to toss a human or topple a skyscraper. One of the animals is George, an albino gorilla residing at a California wildlife enclosure. Dwayne Johnson plays Davis, a primatologist that is smart enough to reason with George and buff enough to crack jokes with him. So when George starts growing larger, growling louder, and smashing property, there’s some heartbreak in their relationship of man and ape.

Davis’ character trait that isn’t abundantly clear is that he likes being around wild animals more than he does people. It’s understandable in this context as there are a lot of nasty people after George. There’s an evil corporation that wants to cover up their experiment, led by a sharply-dressed vixen (Malin Åkerman) and her bumbling brother (Jake Lacy). There’s a collective of well-armed mercenaries gleefully hunting down the monsters, led by a bearded badass (Joe Manganiello). There’s a secret government organization trying to more properly contain the creatures, led by a smirking agent (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) that is having way too much fun with his work. And there’s the US military, led by a cocky Colonel (Demetrius Grosse) that is convinced enough firepower will take down these monstrous beasts. Perhaps the lovely Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) will bring him out of his shell.

The film keeps itself on the strict schedule of the giant monster movie formula. We get the briefest of relationship establishing for Davis and George, relegated to some silly sign-language before George inhales the gas and goes on a, well, rampage. Then it’s a mountain of exposition and loose rules to properly stage an excuse for a giant gorilla, wolf, and crocodile to mess up a city. I honestly surprised how by the book the film felt to go with the boring babblings of genetic mutation and radio signal attraction to concoct this story. There’s a devotion to the genre that is so faithful I started getting antsy for the film to go back to its self-aware insanity.

What kept winning back from the onslaught of exposition and backstory are bits and pieces of solid characters scattered throughout the film. Dwayne Johnson naturally oozes charisma and has some fun with the material, as well as finding the right scenes to draw attention to his massive biceps. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is always entertaining to watch, but he seems stuck in the familiar character of Negan from The Walking Dead, making me weary if this is the future of his career. I even liked the human villains of Malin Åkerman as a sexy schemer and Jake Lacy as an always-nervous cohort.

But they’re not the real stars, of course. Fans of the game have most likely come to see the big-screen CGI treatment for the giant monsters of George, Ralph, and Lizzie. All three will converge on a city and do what they did best in the games; causing mass-destruction. But for hiding the monsters for so long, their action-packed battle comes off more standard than exhilarating. There are a few moments of campy joy that involve eating humans and decapitation, but, much like all of the movie’s pleasure, it’s sandwiched between less impressive scenes. Less effective than the close-ups of the monsters are the wide shots where we can see all the carnage clearly but feel too safe and by-the-numbers. I dunno, something about watching a monster attack from a distance doesn’t hold the same thrill as when you’re looking up at a giant albino gorilla tossing tanks into the air.

In its cartoonish and knowing state, Rampage can be fun but I wish it had the monster guts to have more fun. Though I left smiling and satiated with it popcorn thrills, I kept wanting just a bit more to enjoy the picture past the expects sights and sounds. Maybe a few more jokes between Dwayne Johnson and the ape or a half-dozen more amusing deaths via a monster attack. But for many, the sight of an albino gorilla duking out in the city against flying wolves and spiked crocodiles will be enough. For my inner-child who went goofy over Jurassic Park as a kid, it was indeed plenty to keep the eyes enthralled with a cool battle to relay for the schoolyard.

[author title=”About the Author” image=”http://popstermedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/mark_mcpherson-300×221-150×150.jpg”]Movie Reviewer Mark McPherson has been all about movies since working at a video store in his youth. His talents range from video editing to animation to web development, but movies have always been his passion to write about.[/author]

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“Captain Marvel” Retains Top Slot at the Box Office

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It’s no surprise that in its second weekend, the first Marvel Cinematic Universe of 2019 is still riding high. Captain Marvel, the latest in the MCU with Brie Larson starring as the lead, generated another $69 million over the weekend, placing its domestic total at $266 million. Tallying up the international box office, the film’s global total to date is $760 million. Despite the online controversy, the film is looking to be another strong box office smash for Disney and Marvel.

As for the premieres for the weekend, and there were plenty, they were all over the map. Just below Captain Marvel was the animated adventure Wonder Park, bringing in $16 million, another film with controversy when the director’s name was removed from the picture after sexual harassment charges. Five Feet Apart, the dying teen drama about a romance amid cystic fibrosis, only came in at #3 with a weekend gross of $13 million. And debuting the lowest in the top 10 for debuts was Captive State, a sci-fi dystopian tale, only making $3 million. The film debuted so low the little film No Manches Frida 2 was able to sneak about it at #6 with a gross of $3.8 million.

Drops were fairly low all around for the returning films, mostly because Captain Marvel was dominating the previous weekend. The only milestone worth noting is that The LEGO Movie 2, after six weeks at the box office, finally cracked $100 million. And the sun is now setting on Green Book’s post-Oscar run by coming in at #10 for the final weekend of its top 10 run over the past few weeks.

View the full top ten weekend box office results below:

Captain Marvel ($69,318,000)

Wonder Park ($16,000,000)

Five Feet Apart ($13,150,000)

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($9,345,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($8,085,000)

No Manches Frida 2 ($3,894,000)

Captive State ($3,163,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($2,135,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($1,900,000)

Green Book ($1,277,000)

Next weekend, Captain Marvel may very well have some competition when Jordan Peele’s new horror film Us hits over 3,600 theaters.

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“Dragon” Continues To Soar, “Funeral” Close Behind, “Green Book” Back

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With little competition for the weekend, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third in the animated fantasy saga, was able to secure the box office once more. In its second weekend, the animated epic made $30 million to push its domestic total to $97 million. So far the film has done about the same as the previous film and is on track to stay in the top 10 for a few more weeks in March.

Debuts this weekend were small with one big exception. Tyler Perry’s latest Madea film, A Madea Family Funeral, naturally made a relatively big splash with its dedicated audience. Starting at #2, the film made $27 million for its first weekend. No word on the budget yet but it’s most likely on a budget as most Tyler Perry productions are, so it’s safe to call this a success, especially for debuting with a box office so close to Dragon.

The rest of the premieres were not as strong at all. Greta, the new thriller starring Chloe Moretz, debuted all the way down at #8 with $4.5 million box office. To be fair, however, the film was in a constant battle for its spot as three other films also reported earnings around $4 million for the weekend. Of note, Green Book, fresh off winning the Academy Award for Best Picture one weekend ago, splashed back into more theaters to arise even higher in the top 10 with its domestic total now sitting at $73 million. Don’t count on it remaining there long as bigger blockbusters will be swooping as we plow through the last remnants of winter movies.

Check out the full listing of the top 10 box office weekend results below:

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($30,046,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($27,050,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($7,000,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($6,615,000)

Green Book ($4,711,000)

Fighting With My Family ($4,691,284)

Isn’t it Romantic ($4,645,000)

Greta ($4,585,000)

What Men Want ($2,700,000)

Happy Death Day 2U ($2,516,000)

Next weekend is once again all about Marvel as their latest superhero solo film, Captain Marvel, will be appearing in 4,100 theaters.

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Review: “Captain Marvel” is a Solidly Sensational Sci-Fi Adventure

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Captain Marvel joins the ranks of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a much different way. She slides into the MCU via a twisty sci-fi adventure of the 1990s, before the Avengers were formed. And though the film does serve as a strong bridge picture that answers a few more questions about the Marvel universe, the film quickly becomes its own thing and gives its hero a real identity as the powerful addition to the superhero ensemble.

Brie Larson plays Carol Danvers, a woman not sure if she’s a human pilot of Earth or a soldier of the Kree empire’s Starforce. There’s little time to explore these conflicting visions she’s having when there’s special energy powers to control and a war being waged against the shape-shifting Skrull alien creatures. A detour to 1990s Earth gives her a bit of time to find out more while also hunting down some more Skrulls, leading to some interesting scenarios when combatting aliens that could look like old ladies.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) ..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

Carol’s landing on Earth leads to treading down familiar Marvel timeline territory as well as evoking plenty of dated 1990s bits. What started drawing me into the picture was how the film holds itself back from the obvious. The 1990s setting is used for some gags of video stores and Windows 95, sure, but never goes the extra mile of becoming an aggravating reference fest, keeping a certain vibe the way Guardians of the Galaxy embraced the 1970s and 1980s. And just like that film, there’s a nostalgic soundtrack to boot, with choice tracks for just the right cue.

Samuel L. Jackson pops up in the film as a younger Nick Fury with his two eyes still intact. He teams up with Carol in her intergalactic spy adventure and thankfully never goes to the booming lengths he was known for that decade. And the filmmakers could have easily made this younger Fury go full Die Hard 3 or Pulp Fiction but he never does, always keeping that cool persona he has been known for in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..L to R: Att-Lass (Algenis Perez Soto), Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Minn-Erva (Gemma Chan)..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

But the one aspect that is never shunned and built up grandly is the aspect of female empowerment. Danvers is established as a woman who doesn’t have a clear identity or mindful nature of galactic politics and has to build herself up when she realizes she may be a very powerful pawn in a big game of intergalactic chess. Her memories are that of always being told to back off from non-traditional activities for girls and, sure enough, she rises up to become the smirking and energy-shooting hero when the final piece of her character puzzle is pieced together. It’s just unfortunate that the film spends so much time doing the building amid a twisty sci-fi spy story that Brie never gets a moment to shine as brightly as she could, despite a very enthusiastic third-act closer.

If we’re being blunt, no, Captain Marvel doesn’t quite have the same gravity to be a cultural milestone of a comic book movie. Where others have pointed to Black Panther as not the first the most insightful and cultural of black-led superhero movies, I doubt many will look towards Captain Marvel as the grandest of female-led comic book movies, making its motives known with the power and subtlety of a supernova. But, in terms of what the film is aiming towards, it doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone and that’s perhaps the point. I just wish that Captain Marvel’s astounding powers to destroy starships and aliens had a much bigger punch for a picture that wants to obliterate the glass ceiling and merely cuts a narrow hole within the MCU. It’s a nice hole, mind you, and still weaves a capable and compelling sci-fi adventure with a surprisingly more engaging finale than most Marvel solos.

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