REVIEW: Rampage (2018)

Primotologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) tends to a group of gorillas in a San Diego nature reserve. When a corporate space station is destroyed in orbit, canisters of genetically modifying gas crash-land across the continental United States. One of the canisters crashes into the San Diego reserve, transforming an albino silverback gorilla nick-named George into a rapidly growing and aggressive monster. When the owners of the space station use a radio signal to attract both George and a similarly mutated wolf to their headquarters in Chicago, Davis and rogue geneticist Dr Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) are on the chase to avert catastrophe.

Or, if you prefer, Dwayne Johnson fights giant monsters. Rampage, which reunites Johnson with San Andreas director Brad Peyton, is pretty much the definition of a review-proof movie. Not that the film is particularly bad – although it is definitely not great – but it never does anything that the average viewer could not have worked out from its advertising. The audience doesn’t need a critic to let them know whether they are likely to enjoy it; if they have seen a trailer, or glanced at the poster, they will already have a pretty good idea.

The film is based on the 1986 videogame of the same name, which at 32 years old is arguably the oldest game ever to get a live-action film (Super Mario Bros was older, but its adaptation uses material from its sequel Super Mario World). Hollywood doesn’t have a lot of luck with making films out of videogames, with countless films including Tomb Raider, Prince of Persia, Assassin’s Creed and Street Fighter all failing to find much commercial or creative success. That in mind, it is a small victory to recognise Rampage as the best videogame movie to date. That is in part down to the age of the game in question: there’s not much Rampage needs to do in order to adapt the game beyond including scenes of a giant gorilla, wolf and lizard climbing skyscrapers and smashing tanks. Everything on either side really is down to the filmmakers. Of course there are some tweaks involved: the game basically featured King Kong and Godzilla with their serial numbers shaved off, but a more cautious Warner Bros avoids comparisons by making their giant gorilla an albino and their giant lizard a mutated crocodile.

It also feels relatively timely. For good or bad, giant monster movies definitely seem in vogue in Hollywood over recent years, thanks to Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla remake, Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim franchise, and Kong: Skull IslandRampage certainly fits into the lower ranks of that list, but in terms of the genre conventions – giant monsters trash things and fight each other – it is a legitimate entry in the group.

The story is simple and more than a little silly. The characters are thinly drawn caricatures. The humour is broad and often rather coarse. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays what is essentially a parody of what Billy Bob Thornton would be like in the same role. Malin Akerman plays a villain worthy of Scooby-Doo. On the other hand, Dwayne Johnson performs his usual light-hearted action shtick and giant mutant animals trash Chicago. The visual effects are suitably impressive, and the explosions and collapsing buildings are suitably large. Even the gorilla is a reasonably pleasant sort of a character. I enjoyed the film a lot more than I expect to, but then in all honesty I was not expecting to enjoy it at all.

To reiterate: you do not need critical reviews to tell you whether or not you are going to enjoy Rampage. Let us be honest. You already know the answer.

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