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Thursday, 12 April 2018

Rampage

(M) ★★★

Director: Brad Peyton.

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Liles, Naomie Harris, Malin Åkerman, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jake Lacy, P. J. Byrne, Joe Manganiello.

Kong's bleach job was a hit.
Video game adaptations, as a rule, suck.

Sure, some of those movies have their defenders, but check out this Rotten Tomatoes list. Saved you a click - not a single film above 50 per cent positive reviews. That means none of those movies (and there's almost 50 on the list) has been better than "so-so".

It's somewhat hilarious that all of these previous computer game movies, which have tried to bring to life the elaborate stories and characters from the console adventures, have been surpassed by Rampage, a film based on a largely plotless arcade game from the '80s.

By most measures, Rampage is certainly not a great film, but when measured against its own ambitions and how it delivers on them, then it totally earns a "good" rating (AKA three stars). It's big dumb fun - nothing more, nothing less. But what else do you expect from a film based on a video game about three giant mutated animals destroying a city?

The plot, for what it's worth, centres on primatologist and ex-soldier Davis Okoye (Johnson) and his friend George, who just happens to be an albino silverback gorilla (a mo-capped Liles).

When George is infected by a weaponised DNA mutation from space (it makes sense in the context of the opening act, trust me) he joins a couple of other similarly altered beasts on a destructive rampage. But who can stop them before they tear Chicago to the ground?


The film's high concept isn't going to win any awards, but almost everything the movie does works within the scope of its world and what it's trying to do. It rarely takes itself too seriously, it relishes its occasional bad-ass one-liners, and it features three massive super-animals smashing a city (and each other). And it has The Rock.

Johnson's ability to elevate anything he's in is supremely under-rated. Here he adds welcome depth to his character with a performance that is surprisingly well-rounded and keeps the film from disappearing into a Sharknado of silliness. Sure, he flies helicopters and straps on a grenade launcher, but he also gives a wonderfully sensitive performance - the kind that makes you wonder why the hell he's not getting offered straight-up dramatic roles. I'm going to go out on a limb and say one day he's going to win some acting awards that don't have "MTV" or "Kid's Choice" in the title. Seriously - Johnson has chops, and if not for his position as the heart and soul of Rampage, this would be a far lesser film. Can someone please cast him in something other than a comedy or actioner? Thank you.

The subgenre of giant monster (kaiju) movies runs the gamut from the schlocky pulp of Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus (2010), King Kong vs Godzilla (1962) and Pacific Rim (2013) to the allegorical, thematic and technical excellence of Gojira (1954), Godzilla (2014), King Kong (1933) and Cloverfield (2008). Rampage certainly hews toward the former, but does so with a certain level of decency. Yes, it's inane and silly, but it's not a decisively bad film by any technical measure.

Sure, it's far from perfect. It could do with better human villains - Åkerman is one-dimensional and Lacy's just annoying - and its ending flat-out ignores a huge number of deaths caused by George. Also there are a few creaky script moments. particularly those that have to be delivered by Harris or that try to portray Johnson as some kind of anti-social loner.

But in the plus column is Morgan's "cowboy" government agent, who is the right blend of good/bad guy, as well as Johnson's performance and the sheer "I've never seen that before" spectacle of its giant beasties battling each other and Chicago. The first two acts are also surprisingly solid, as is Byrne's bit role (it would have been good to see more of him, although it makes sense not to, so well played scriptwriters).

Rampage is not great by any of stretch of the imagination, but it's also not terrible. It's simply good at exactly what it sets out to be good at, and that is to unleash three giant mutated animals (and The Rock) on the city of Chicago. And what could be wrong with that?

***

PS. On a side note, this raises the question of "why is this video game adaptation better than all those other video game adaptations that failed?". The answer appears to lie in two key factors: 1) the high concept or knowing why the game worked, and 2) being a good film instead of being beholden to a good game.

So in the case of Rampage, the high concept was simply "giant animals smash city". That was the appeal of the game, so it's the appeal of the movie. Nothing more, nothing less.

On the second point, the game's blissful idiocy (certainly in the incarnation I played as a kid) works in the film's favour because there is no mythology to adhere to or slavish fan-base to appeal to (probably). It's blissfully unencumbered - the film can focus on being an enjoyable version of "giant animals smash city" and not have to worry about any other crap, which seems to be the crap that doesn't always transfer over to a filmic platform and merely serves as useless fan service.

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