Rampage … ah, one of those vicarious video games from the 1980s where gamers got to play as one of three monsters – a giant ape, a giant werewolf or a giant mutant lizard – destroying cities and eating people while trying to avoid getting killed by the military.
It had such an impact, apparently, that the creators of Wreck-It Ralph named its baddie-turned-hero after Ralph the Werewolf from Rampage. Now you know.
As in the game, the big ape here is also named George, but this time is an albino gorilla raised from infancy by primate expert Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson; and I’m sure the naming coincidence with Dana Gurira’s butt-kicking general in Black Panther is just that … coincidental).
While the rampaging beasts in the game and its sequels were the result of various things – food additives, a radioactive lake, tainted vitamins – the movie tries to pin the blame squarely on one evil megacorporation, Energyne.
(Actually, the latest Rampage game, 2006’s Total Destruction, also had a crooked company as the cause – but somehow, using the name “Scum Labs” in the movie would have been a dead giveaway of its vileness.)
Not-so-long story short, George and two other critters – yep, a wolf and a crocodile (upgraded for the movie from a mere lizard) – get transformed into crazed behemoths.
It’s left to Davis and disgraced geneticist Dr Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) to find a way to halt their … rampage to save lives (and George), while Energyne’s evil sibling chiefs (Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy) want the beasts for billions of entirely different reasons.
And there’s also Jeffrey Dean Morgan, still channelling Negan from The Walking Dead even while wearing a suit, as a government agent with initially dubious motives to spread some tension among both good and bad guys.
These colourful types help to keep the movie going between the scenes of mass destruction, which are actually quite well executed and easy to take in – not chaotic and incoherent like in, oh, the last three Transformers movies.
It has some effective moments, like a paramilitary group stalking/being stalked by Ralph, and Davis’ heroic (if a little too convenient) effort to save George during the big finish.
But while director Brad Peyton has a good eye for disaster and destruction (he also helmed earthquake flick San Andreas), he does not fare as well in building a sense of excitement or raising the stakes, keeping the film’s thrill-o-meter at a fairly uniform level throughout.
What really sells Rampage, though, is its central duo.
Not Kate and Davis, but Davis and George.
Johnson actually manages to command attention while on the screen with the massive CGI monsters (guess he truly is The Most Electrifying Man in all of Entertainment).
More importantly, he and actor Jason Liles as George manage to strike up a warm and genuine-seeming bond, which is challenging enough without one of them having to act opposite another guy in a performance-capture rig.
All told, undistinguished but generally agreeable popcorn fare that lets you disengage your brain and soak up some sensory overload for about 100 minutes.
But I do take exception to the fact that someone, somewhere, felt the need to blur out scenes of George giving people the finger. What, were they afraid it might trigger a wave of “human see, human do”?
Director: Brad Peyton
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman, Joe Manganiello, Marley Shelton, Jason Liles