Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is the most charismatic movie star out there. His sheer personality is enough to elevate any film and that is often the case where the film just should not be as entertaining as it is but for his presence. Despite myself I enjoyed the absolute turd that was San Andreas and it is all down to this man. He combines the best of Stallone and Schwarzenegger in the prime but adds that swagger and knowing ridiculousness that served him so well in pro-wrestling.
Rampage is the latest film that proves that just added The Rock makes anything better. By all rights a movie based on an arcade game from 1986 with the simple premise of stopping giant monsters from destroying a city should not succeed. If a film based on a game with the extensive mythology of Assassin’s Creed or Tomb Raider cannot succeed what hopes does this film have?
That may be its secret weapon and the formula that has long eluded video game film adaptations – a film given a relatively blank slate and just a basic premise is probably the best candidate for adaptation. The story follows Davis Okoye, a primatologist with the stereotypical army special forces past. He transitioned from soldier to anti-poaching expert to primatologist. He rescued a rare albino gorilla from poachers and formed a close relationship with the ape. This is similar, though far more believable than the raptor trainer relationship in Jurassic World.
The ape is character on his own, demonstrating a twisted and wicked sense of humour one that even has him giving The Rock the finger. Unfortunately, the ape, named George, loses that character in the second act due the fact that he is growing into a monster because of Evil Scientists and Even more Evil Corporate Tycoons Whose Experiment Goes Wrong. This experiment plays on all our fears of the unknown science of genetic modification, called genetic editing because it’s supposed to be the next step in the science. With this technology the evil Energyn corporation, represented by an underutilised and thus ineffective Malin Akerman and her snivelling partner/brother, hopes to sell a new weapon to the militaries around the world. The tech mutates subjects by making them grow to enormous, Kaiju sizes. Not only that but it adds the traits of other animals to them. The wolf in the film has what looks like flying squirrel and porcupine traits into it. The alligator grows to what at times looks like Diplodocus size, but every so often I suspect that the size was adjusted to meet the requirements of the script. Strangely, George gets the least manipulated version of the experiment as all he does is grow to King Kong size. To effectively weaponise the creatures, their aggression levels are heightened thus leading to the spectacular destruction of down town Chicago. The whys of the attack on Chicago is written into the script and makes sense within the film so at least the writers and Brad Peyton thought that through.
The Rock and the creatures are the stars of the film, but there are some humans in it. The stand out character, next to Okoye, is Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s mysterious government agent. Harvey Russel is a stereotypical wise cracking good guy government agent who can ignore advice but learns the hard lesson and becomes an ally. Morgan chews the scenery and takes great delight in doing so. He wise cracks his way through a performance that takes no real effort, and you can see that he took it for the chance to make some money while having fun. Latched on to The Rock and supposedly the love interest, a sub-plot that is never actually fleshed out thankfully, is Naomie Harris as DR Kate Caldwell, the genius who created the tech behind the Rampage genetic editing but was fired when she realised that it was being developed for military uses. She doesn’t do much, but there are a couple of moments where she is more than a sidekick. The first when she uses her brain to break a glass door, contrasted with The Rock’s move to use brute force and the second when she comes up with a better escape plan for the two.
The rest of the film is populated by cardboard cut-out characters, from Akerman’s villainous villain to, her cowardly brother, to the atypical military colonel who listens to no one causing the deaths of many but who still believes that more firepower is the solution to the problem. This colonel is played by the very capable Demetrius Grosse who seems to be getting typecast in military roles as he plays a soldier on the TV show, The Brave.
The film’s story may be paper thin, but the execution is nigh perfect. Unlike Godzilla, we get to see the monsters in all their horrifying glory. We also get to see them fight, no nonsense with doors closing just as the monsters meet and are throwing down. Even better there’s only one night-time battle, the rest are all in glorious daylight allowing you to see the hits and the bites and all the destruction. The film revels in the absurdity of these creatures and as such puts them front and centre when they need to be. The film does suffer from quick-cut syndrome making following the action difficult. It’s not as tough to follow as a Transformers film but there are times when it is confusing.
The 3D effects are actually very good, easy on the eyes and this is helped by the fact that most of the film takes place during the day. Sound effects are suitably loud and bombastic, but they never, ever drown out the dialogue. I couldn’t even begin to tell you about the soundtrack, it’s just not memorable. I cannot honestly tell you one scene where the soundtrack played.
Rampage is dumb fun, just like the game. It doesn’t take itself seriously and there are plot holes the size of the space station that blows up in the opening scene. Despite that, and because of the charisma of The Rock the film is a good popcorn flick that will immediately leave you brain as the credits roll. Don’t let that put you off though, it is worth the time to watch it in a theatre simply to see the monsters in full glory. If you have nothing better to do before Avengers comes to conquer all, I recommend that you go watch this film.
Grumpy Old Man who still collects toys (THEY. ARE. NOT. DOLLS), PC Gamer lured to the Dark Side of console gaming, comic book reader and fan of all things pop culture.
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13 April 2018
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