Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Åkerman, Joe Manganiello, Jake Lacy, Marley Shelton, Jeffrey Dean Morgan
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…Rampage might be the best video game adaptation of all time. To be fair, the bar is low…
Not wanting to damn it with faint praise, but Rampage might be the best video game adaptation of all time.
To be fair, the bar is low, but in re-configuring the 1986 arcade monster mash of the same name, director Brad Peyton (San Andreas) and his quartet of writers (Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, Adam Sztykiel) demonstrate an admirable sense of what translates to the screen (giant monsters wrecking stuff), what doesn’t (trying to duplicate the gaming experience), and what to add to the formula to make it pop cinematically (The Rock).
Here everybody’s mate Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is primatologist Davis Okoye, who is perplexed when George, his favourite gorilla at the San Diego wildlife sanctuary where he works, starts inexplicably growing and getting aggressive. Davis just wants to help his big, sign-language-using albino buddy, but sinister forces are at work: an evil corporation run by sister and brother team Claire and Brett Wyden (Malin Akerman and Jake Lacey) has been operating a secret experimental program that involves messing with genetics (never a good idea in this sort of thing). When the satellite the experiments are taking place on is destroyed (three guesses how), a powerful mutagen is scattered across America, affecting a timber wolf in Wyoming, an alligator in the Everglades, and good ol’ George, all of whom grow massive and proceed to, well, rampage across the country.
Rampage goes through narrative convolutions to get all its pieces in place on the board, bringing in Naomie Harris’ geneticist and Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s enjoyable good ol’ boy secret agent to fill in the narrative gaps that Johnson’s avuncular, intellectual lug can’t figure out for himself. Once it settles down, though, there’s a brisk simplicity to the proceedings, with everything driving towards the inevitable final act climax in which our three giant monsters lay waste to Chicago while the usual horde of military machines swarm around them ineffectually (compare this with 2018’s other giant monster movie, Pacific Rim Uprising, which pushes in too many directions before settling into its groove).
The action is cleverly and spectacularly executed, and shows real imagination from time to time (Johnson and Harris riding a broken helicopter down a collapsing building is a blast). It does edge right up to the fringe of horror territory from time to time, though; at one point the giant wolf – nicknamed “Ralph” – hunts Joe Manganiello’s mercenary team through the forest, while our mutant alligator – “Lizzie” apparently – is a markedly grotesque creation, so maybe leave the more nightmare-prone kids at home for this one.
At the centre of it all is our man Johnson, doing that thing he always does: being a nurturing tough guy, a four-quadrant-friendly superhero whose sheer star power frequently threatens to eclipse the CGI mayhem around him. Like George, whose violence is caused by the gene-altered mutagen rampaging through his system, Johnson’s Davis doesn’t want to hurt anybody, but when circumstances call for it he’s perfectly capable of choking out an army guard with what even he sheepishly admits is “…a big arm”.
That’s Johnson’s central appeal: he’s your big, goofy, dad-joke-telling uncle encouraging you to eat your greens and say your prayers, who keeps in his back pocket a quiet capability for devastating destruction. It’s an appealing model of masculinity; contrast it with the other modes on offer in Rampage, from Manganiello’s scarred and ruthless private military contractor to Morgan’s untrustworthy spook to Lacey’s craven corporate suit. Whether deliberate or not, the subtle rumination on modern manhood that bubbles under the surface makes Rampage a more interesting work than many of its tentpole stablemates.
And if that doesn’t work for you, there’s always a giant white ape tearing apart Chicago to enjoy.