13th Apr2018

‘Rampage’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Naomi Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman, Jake Lacy, Breanne Hill, Joe Manganiello, Will Yun Lee | Written by Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, Adam Sztykiel | Directed by Brad Peyton

rampage-poster

Dwayne Johnson re-teams with San Andreas director Brad Peyton for this hugely entertaining creature feature, based on the fondly remembered 1986 video game. It’s big dumb fun of the highest order and you know what? There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Rampage begins in space, where a secret lab has exploded, following an incident with a giant rat. When three cannisters of a genetic editing serum called CRISPR fall to Earth, they end up infecting George, a friendly albino gorilla who just happens to be best friends with Davis Okoye (Johnson), a primatologist with a special forces background. Overnight, George triples in size and begins behaving aggressively, which leads to his capture by a government agency lead by Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Agent Russell (“When science sh*ts the bed, I’m the guy they call to change the sheets”, is his none-too-subtle introduction).

However, a rampaging George escapes and heads straight for downtown Chicago, intending to smash the heck out of it. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, he’s joined by a giant wolf and a giant crocodile, both of which have also been exposed to the serum and have angry city smashing on their minds.

With the aid of disgraced former geneticist Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), Davis tries to find a cure for George and stop the destruction before the military take matters into their own hands and nuke both the monsters and the city. Meanwhile, a pair of shady corporate villains (Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy, both clearly enjoying themselves) attempt to cover up their involvement in a potential giant monster scandal by destroying the evidence and Kate along with it.

Rampage isn’t entirely faithful to its source material (in the game, the creatures were mutated humans), but the script throws in plenty of knowing references to keep fans happy, from the appearance of the giant rat, to the nick-name that internet weirdos give the giant wolf and, of course, all the riotous city smashing that was the point of the game in the first place.

Director Brad Peyton is clearly never happy unless he’s trouncing a city and he serves up some world class mayhem here, thanks to some liberally deployed CGI. It’s not exactly state-of-the-art special effects work, but it gets the job done as far as smashing stuff up is concerned.

Where the film is more successful is in its depiction of George, whose touching bond with Davis gives the film its gooey emotional centre. (No, you’re crying, etc). Similarly, Peyton has a real eye for visual spectacle and he orchestrates a series of delightfully bonkers set-pieces, while maintaining a strong sense of pace. Highlights include Davis finding an ingenious way to crash a helicopter, a giant wolf attacking a helicopter in mid-flight and an extended smack-down between a giant gorilla and a giant lizard that feels like a sneaky under-the-radar version of King Kong vs Godzilla.

The cast are a lot of fun too. Dwayne Johnson was born for this sort of thing and he’s on his usual top form here, all rippling muscles, witty one-liners and twinkling eyes (and teeth). He also generates sparky chemistry with Harris, while Jeffrey Dean Morgan does some quality scene-stealing as Russell, with a performance that’s identical to his two-season long turn as Negan in The Walking Dead (all that’s missing is the baseball bat).

In short, Rampage is a hugely entertaining fantasy thriller that’s suffused with an obvious love of monster movies and delivers plenty of action, humour and emotion. Indeed, the only problem is the film’s baffling refusal to set up a sequel.

**** 4/5

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