Rumble Review: Monsters Mash

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If the recent Godzilla trilogy has taught us anything, it’s that, for as fun as giant monster movies can be, their success often relies on structure. Since most famous monsters and kaiju can’t talk, movies will use human characters essentially as narrators in order to explain the plot and keep things rolling by orchestrating the next fight. How well that’s handled often determines the quality of the story. Credit must then go to Rumble, Paramount+‘s latest animated movie release, for finding a new approach to this idea — take a bunch of giant monsters and set up fights for them via a professional wrestling league.

Set in a world somewhat resembling our own, the movie centers around aspiring teenager Winnie McEvoy (Geraldine Viswanathan), the daughter of a deceased famous World Monster Wrestling coach who led hometown monster Rayburn to greatness as a multi-time world champion. A heel turn in the opening scene sets off a chain reaction that endangers her father’s legacy, forcing Winnie to become a coach herself and find a monster who can quickly become a world championship contender. She eventually finds one in the schlubby Steve “The Stupendous” (Will Arnett) and it’s around here you’ll quickly notice the movie is tracing the same steps as other underdog sports/martial arts movies (taking quite a few notes from the original Kung Fu Panda).

Still, the movie manages to make a few good decisions. It wastes no time in revealing that Steven is actually Rayburn Jr. and combating the complicated relationship of living up to a famous father’s legacy becomes the character arc for both characters. This is actually a challenge many second-generation wrestlers face and it can often make or break their careers, so credit to Rumble for tackling some real-life struggles.

Also, despite it being very much directed at kids, the film doesn’t hold back on the actual matches. You can tell a lot of effort was put into animating the fight choreography and wrestling fans will undoubtedly mark out at some of the moves that get used as the movie progresses.

If there’s any downside beyond the well-trodden narrative, it’s in the design work. Not with the monsters — there’s plenty of creativity there — but the human characters all have a cheap-looking blandness to them. Plus, aside from a couple of fighting venues, you never get the sense that this is a world shared by both humans and giant, stomping kaiju. One can easily think of several other animation studios that would’ve had a field day designing a city made for both humans and monsters, yet very little of that creativity is present here.

Additionally, the film is partially produced by WWE Studios and the company’s integration can best be described as uneven. There are some good ideas (like a literal Lucha Dragon), some awkward product placement (namely show logos and the random usage of one tag team’s entrance music), and brief cameos from both Roman Reigns and Becky Lynch. Unfortunately, many of the monsters have some sort of effect placed on their voices, so unless you’re paying close attention, you’ll likely miss them.

Rumble is by no means a smashing success, but it makes some good choices. You’ll get a few laughs out of Arnett (and ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, doing his usual over-the-top reaction schtick) and the fights are all fun. Plus, it clocks in at a breezy 90 minutes. Sometimes, that’s all you want out of a giant monster movie.

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Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Rumble arrives on Paramount+ on December 15th.

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