Film review | Rampage

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson leads the way in this gloriously schlocky giant monster slugfest • 3/5

A (big) boy and his monkey: Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is the primatologist-with-pecs guardian to the albino gorilla George in Brad Peyton’s ludicrously entertaining monster movie
A (big) boy and his monkey: Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is the primatologist-with-pecs guardian to the albino gorilla George in Brad Peyton’s ludicrously entertaining monster movie

Sometimes, the sheer crudeness and mediocrity of life will leave you so desperate that the only way to alleviate the rote, dull pain of it all is to book a table at the most expensive restaurant in your relative vicinity and blow half the month’s budget on all five courses. You’ll do this in the hope that being in the presence of such catering and culinary excellence will give you the uplift that you need at that moment; that it will elevate your brain and body out of the morass of daily living and let you experience – even for a fleeting moment – a true sensation of Greatness; something that plucks you out of the inexorable churn of time and allows you to have a much-needed touch of bliss.

At other times, however, the same effect can more or less be achieved by a guilty bite into the greasiest hamburger you can get your hands on. One bite will be all that it takes to bring that orgasmic-yet-childlike pleasure rushing back into your bloodstream. You know it’s bad for you, and you know the monstrous Frankenstein’s Creature you’re putting in your mouth is likely made out of suspect ingredients culled from godknowswhere. But you enjoy it anyway, because it sends a signal of raw pleasure to your lizard brain – a primitive rush that cannot be denied.

Rampage, the latest cinematic foray from director Brad Peyton and actor Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (reunited after last year’s equally schlocky disaster film San Andreas), falls neatly into the latter category, if we’re to equate time at the multiplex with time at the burger ‘joint’.

Existing slap-bang in the middle of the Brains v Brawn Venn Diagram, Johnson is Davis Okoye, a primatologist with little time for people but plenty of time for animals, chief of all his favourite “rescue” an albino gorilla who goes by George. But when chemical vials containing cutting-edge mutating technology scatter themselves over the surface of the Earth after their original space-station home blows to smithereens, George – along with a couple of other beasties – gets an unwelcome upgrade which makes him a threat to mankind as a whole.

With the military keen to blast them all to bits and a shady government operative manipulating things behind the scenes – that’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Harvey Russell – Davis has his work cut out for him if he wants his simian buddy to emerge from this unscathed. But in his race against time – and exacerbated by the nefarious doings of the corporate scientist sibling duo that caused this mess in the first place – he finds a helping hand in Dr Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), a renegade scientist with the keys to the antidote.

Loosely inspired by a video game franchise that first hit arcades in 1986, the only real surprise found in Peyton’s film is that it does actually come with not-insignificant “talky bits” before the monster-on-monster action can start in earnest. Truth be told, save for some scattered skirmishes at the beginning, it’s all largely relegated to the climax. But this is a chunky battle that pays off nicely – and you’ll be rooting for poor embattled George all the way through.

That’s not to say that Peyton’s film – boasting an impressively unexpected grand total of four screenwriters; Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal and Adam Sztykiel – doesn’t make some easily avoidable mistakes along the way. Playing our main antagonist Claire Wyden, Malin Ackerman’s performance is wooden even within the standards of the B-movie look and feel the film’s going for... she phones in dialogue and plays her eminently hissable villaness role as if she’s reading off an autocue, when seeing her chew some scenery would have been a proper source of joy. It’s also offset by an otherwise overqualified cast of colleagues. From the Rock’s on-point typically on-point blend of humour and pathos to Harris’ voice of reason and Dean Morgan’s sly “cowboy”, everyone’s a winner here – and that also goes for Jake Lacy’s portrayal of Claire’s knuckleheaded brother Brett – the butt of many a crude joke... all of which, crude as they are, land deliciously.

So that, even though we’re all here for the monsters, the humans make for a great, amusing distraction.

The verdict

Dumb as a bag of rocks and making no apologies for it, Rampage might just be the most satisfying and coherent video game-to-movie adaptation ever to be produced. Any project marginally more ambitious would take that as damning with faint praise, but with tongue lodged firmly in cheek and a distinct desire to satisfy our monster-slugfest cravings – to say nothing of yet another winningly game performance from Dwayne Johnson – Peyton’s pre-summer blockbuster is sure to go down a treat with the young.