Dwayne Johnson knows his way around a ludicrous script, heaven knows he’s read enough of them. Parachuting cars, however, have nothing on giant albino ape, massive flying wolf and monster crocodile smash up Chicago. There’s no doubt where the wind’s coming from in this city.
Rampage feels like the film commission made when Warner Bros realised that they wouldn’t be getting Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla vs Kong extravaganza until 2019. Mixing elements of both franchises with those of Planet of the Apes and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the film is actually based on a 1986 video game of the same name. This link to console entertainment is, of course, blatantly obvious. Increasingly so as giant, poorly rendered, wildlife proceed to propel characters to horrifically nonchalant deaths.
Johnson plays former-soldier, anti-poaching primatologist Davis Okoye, a beefcake whose expertise has allowed him to develop a degree of communication with primates and form a friendship with George, the albino gorilla. Think Chris Pratt and the raptors in Jurassic World and you’re there – right down to the crass hand gestures.
In a fun and well-crafted prologue, it is revealed that gene-editing company Energyne has been developing a pathogen with the ability to mutate DNA and create super-beings. When an experiment with a lab rat goes haywire in space, a similarly botched attempt to retrieve the canisters containing the pathogen concludes with three of them plummeting to Earth. Not only is curious George infected but so are a wolf in Wyoming and an enormous crocodile.
Although Rampage is a descendant of video games, the conceit here is comic book daft. Having accidentally transformed three innocent animals into massive, aggressive monsters, Energyne CEO Claire Wyden (Malin Åkerman – here looking the spit of Cruella de Vil) hatches a brilliantly ill-conceived plan to draw the trio into the heart of Chicago. Apparently, she’s never seen a blockbuster before.
When it’s firing on all cylinders, Rampage makes for a joyfully hilarious experience. If the intended gags are hit and miss, the abundance of untended crackers more than pick up the slack. As ever, Johnson’s charisma is key to the fun, saving the film from winding up in insufferable Michael Bay territory. Rampage is much more entertaining than the actor’s last team-up with director Brad Peyton, San Andreas. A sparky turn from Naomi Harris helps too.
To be sure that this critic is not misunderstood, it is an important addendum here that points out that this film is utterly rubbish. Any moment in which the action slows for talking, for instance, levels of tedium rise quite unbearably. For a project of this budget, the effects are similarly embarrassing. Just watch as the obviously fake George lurches around in size as the film drags on – the final third simply does not know when enough is enough.
After surviving a traumatic helicopter crash, Harris has not a hair out of place as she says: ‘I cannot believe I survived that’. You’ll come out saying the same.