A shady technology company develops a process that turns innocent animals into giant killer monsters. Unfortunately, their serum infects the wrong animals, including the gorilla pal of zoologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson), putting the entire world at risk.

In Hollywood, if you have a really dumb idea for a movie and a lot of money to make it, you call The Rock. That’s not intended as an insult; the guy is just the industry’s greatest salesman. Two hundred and 60 pounds of oiled muscles and oil-free charisma, he can sell you things you thought you actively did not want: a Jumanji reboot, sequels to G.I. Joe and Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, films featuring Kevin Hart, Baywat… Okay, everyone has their limits. Rampage is a quintessential Johnson project. Based on a video game with no story or characters to speak of, from a time before many of his fans were born, it sounds like a dreadful basis for a movie. And it sort of is, but it’s also sort of a lot of fun.

The original Rampage came out in 1986, when games were simple (you moved from side to side either punching things or shooting them or gorging on white dots and ghosts) and repetitive. And we were glad of it. In Rampage, players controlled one of three giant monsters — a wolf, a lizard, or a gorilla — and tried to destroy cities before the military could shoot them down and turn them back into the humans they apparently once were. Sacrilegiously messing with the canon, the Rampage movie does not feature humans becoming monsters. Instead, while trying to find a cure for cancer by “gene editing”, scientists have (not-so) accidentally created a serum that turns normal animals into angry, enormous monsters. To avoid the prying eyes of the government and others who might notice titanic hamsters devouring Downtown, these scientists have been carrying out their experiments in space. But things go awry, the space station blows up, and several canisters of monster juice are sent hurtling to Earth. Two land in the wilderness and another crashes into a San Diego zoo, where Davis Okoye (Johnson) works with gorillas. His favourite, an albino called George, is affected by the serum and grows colossal and violent.

To pick apart the plot would be a waste of time, because it’s purely functional. There’s no subtlety or art to it, nor should there be. This is a movie about gorillas punching buildings. You don’t want character work getting in the way of that. It’s fine when the villains (brother and sister megalomaniacs Malin Åkerman and Jake Lacy) say they need to turn their office building’s radio aerial into a giant-monster-homing beacon so had their tech guys “modify it last night”. Because who cares how they did it? Equally, who’s concerned that Naomie Harris’ miscellaneously science-y character hacks a multi-billion dollar tech company using a thermostat she found in the fridge, because it’s “all connected to the same grid”? Logic is only going to slow things down. Those buildings won’t punch themselves.

When it comes to the building-punching portion of the show, there could have been more of it. This very silly movie could actually have afforded to be a lot sillier. Brad Peyton, director of that other loony Rock joint San Andreas, doesn’t keep his tongue always fully in his cheek and he sometimes seems to be shooting, misguidedly, for cool. Johnson is mostly playing his gags with an eyebrow waggle, but not all of the film has his broad confidence. Those villains could be camper, the action sequences could use some more visual gags to enjoy the absurdity of the conceit, and is it greedy to wish the massive gorilla, wolf and lizard were even bigger? Warner Bros. may already have Godzilla and King Kong up its very roomy sleeve, and was perhaps concerned about stepping on those extremely big toes, but when it comes to city-toppling beasts, there’s always room for more. Rampage is big dumb fun, but not as big, dumb and fun as it could have been.

Ridiculous, of course, but not as ridiculous as it might have been. As much fun as it has with the idea of animals stomping cities to rubble, it seems shy of going completely over the top, and it’s the poorer for it.

  • Release date
    13 Apr 2018
  • Movie
    Rampage 2018
  • ★★★
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