Rampage review: Can Dwayne Johnson and co. break the curse of the video game to movie adaptation? Well, of course he can. This is glorious popcorn fun.
Rampage review by Paul Heath.
Hollywood really doesn’t want to give up on attempting to adapt video game movies for cinemas. Following the huge misfires like the Aaron Paul vehicle Need For Speed, the late-80s attempt to bring Super Mario Brothers to the big-screen, the recent Tomb Raider and even that early vehicle for Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Doom (and countless others) Tinseltown hasn’t quite managed to successfully transfer the allure of the source material to celluloid.
The latest attempt is based on a hugely popular arcade game of Rampage from the mid-1980s, a game that saw three gigantic beasts face off against one another – a gorilla, a wolf and an alligator – and the fllmmakers have taken that set-up and lobbed it at the big screen, throwing in the screen presence of Johnson for good measure. The difference here is that we have perhaps one of the most enjoyable films of the year so far in terms of studio tent-poles, arguably Johnson’s best movie outing so far, and the feature to finally break the video game to cinema curse. Yes!
Of course, it’s all utter rubbish – corny, loud, preposterous, unrelenting popcorn fodder – but that is its absolute beauty.
Johnson is front and centre as a character with yet another belter of a name, Davis Okoye, a primatologist who looks after, and indeed talks to the animals at a San Diego conservation centre. Amongst the inmates is unique albino silverback gorilla George, an intelligent, friendly, though obviously strong beast who has been hand-reared, almost from birth, by Davis. Unfortunately for George, he’s about to come into contact with some rogue genetic experiment which has just hit Earth from a smashed-up craft in outer space. The potent chemical mutates animals that come into contact with in to enormous sizes, while making them even more ferocious than they are normally. As well as George, there are similarly affected animals at various locations in North America – a wolf somewhere in the vast landscape of Montana, and an alligator in the waters of Florida. Okoye must team with disgraced scientist Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) to get hold of an antidote, one that can only be obtained from the Chicago-based headquarters of the corporate company behind the original experiment. However, the company, led by Malin Akerman’s brilliantly fierce corporate head Claire Wyden, and her slimey, dim-witted, but equally money-grabbing brother Brett (Jake Lacy), have their own plans, to lure the beasts to the same location, all to secure the DNA from each of them to guarantee their billions in investment. What follows is 100 minutes of the carnage you might expect this situation causes, along with fabulously slick CGI-laden set pieces and brilliantly written characters from the folks that brought you the equally absurd San Andreas.
While Johnson’s character is the brawn leading the fight against the unleashed beasts, Harris’ Caldwell provides the brains – a former employee of the Wydens who has inside knowledge of their dealing as well as having her own personal invested interest in bringing the siblings down. It’s undoubtedly the biggest lead role for Harris in terms of the scale of this movie, and she more than matches the huge presence of her co-star.
Related: San Andreas review
There’s also Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s OGA special agent Russell, a tough of nails government ‘cowboy’ – when science shits the bed, he’s the one who changes the sheets, so the character informs us during his introduction to proceedings. This is actor’s first major film villain, miles away from the nasty Negan in The Walking Dead, and he’s really given the time to shine with some brilliant scene-chewing one-lines, grinning from scene to scene.
Johnson’s character is key to proceedings though, and his relationship with George is paramount to the movie working, and although there’s the visible destruction of cities and no doubt thousands of human fatalities, it is this man and this silverback who we really care about. Seeds are planted early on so that this manipulation works, but for all the exposition thrown our way, none of this matters as we’re invested in the narrative and the characters pretty much from the get go.
What does strike you early on though is just how violent the filmmakers have made this movie. The scenes involving Joe Manganiello’s bad-ass mercenary Burke is directly devolved from the Predator template, and those early sequences involving the introduction of the gigantic wolf ‘Ralph’, are amongst the most graphic, and in a strange way some of best-staged and most enjoyable.
It’s no surprise that this film comes from the team behind one of Johnson’s past successes, San Andreas (in director Brad Peyton, co-writer Carlton Cuse and producer Beau Flynn, who also produces Johnson’s upcoming Skyscraper and Red Notice), and sure, this shares many similarities. San Andreas was an absolute blast in terms of top-notch popcorn entertainment, and while this movie may pile on the cheese a little more with its cartoon villains – particularly Akerman’s bitchy, hard-nosed top-level executive and Morgan’s brilliantly performed modern cowboy, there’s as much fun to be had, if not more. The reason for this is due to that essential relationship at the film’s core – Davis and George, the performance from Johnson – which is amongst his best, and the CGI artists behind the scenes who in George have created a character to really warm to.
It would be easy to dismiss its ridiculous nature, but make no mistake, Rampage is exactly what it promises – King Kong meets San Andreas by way of Predator and Godzilla if you will – a big, totally bad-ass blast of epic proportions, the kind of film made for wondrous, popcorn-fuelled, totally indulgent nights out at the cinema. One of the best blockbusters of 2018 so far. An absolute blast.
Rampage review by Paul Heath, April 2018.
Rampage is released in UK cinemas from 11th April 2018.