Director: Brad Peyton
Screenplay: Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, Adam Sztykiel
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Åkerman, Jake Lacy, Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Runtime: 107 Minutes
Even with the failings of its franchise setups, cinematic universes and flailing lack of aim or focus, the one thing that Warner Bros. Pictures has been consistently good at the last few years has been their output of loud, spectacularly bold and silly monster movies. Consistent in such a way that maybe that’s all they should be pouring the remainder of their money into.
Rampage is their latest blockbuster arriving under a couple of familiar circumstances. This being the third major collaboration between director Brad Peyton and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – wherein Johnson plays an absurd machismo saviour figure – as well as being a big budget adaptation of the video game of the same name.
If there’s a reason why Rampage works as a blockbuster its that it fundamentally understands exactly what it’s meant to be; a big silly monster mashing blockbuster wherein the spectacle is anchored by a ridiculously simple hook of having “The Rock” try to help his giant gorilla friend, George (Jason Liles), to defeat a giant mutated wolf and crocodile.
And work it does, in fact, it’s without hyperbole the single greatest adaptation of a video game to screen ever simply because it gets what it is and doesn’t strive for anything more. Which, for a change, feels like the biggest plus in the film’s favour.
Johnson has by this point proven himself to be, if not the most versatile of actors, one of the biggest and best on the planet at delivering on the kind of popcorn fun of his projects through genuine charisma and a good-heartedness to deliver his lines with earnestness and self-assurance. He’s an inhumanly popular figure by this point, and probably the best successor to the throne vacated by the likes of Schwarzenegger back in the 80s.
The core emotional anchor is the relationship between Johnson’s Davis Okoye, who is an animal-loving former soldier, and giant gorilla George realised through emotive and mostly convincing visual effects. The concept has been changed from the original game narrative to better suit the film’s pseudorealistic edge, or at least to ground it better, and it's helpful to have actors like Naomie Harris as Dr Kate Caldwell on hand to explain away most of it with a sense of levity.
The film is silly as hell, but it revels in it to a point without becoming insincere, and as such it’s a lot of fun to watch. The setup sequences for a majority of the first half are cut of nearly all narrative fat to keep it short and to the point, with preposterous performances from the likes of Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a shady government agent with heavy cowboy affectations, and Malin Åkerman and Jake Lacy as the delightfully irrational antagonists behind the whole thing.
If there are shortcomings, they come in the form of that substantial lack of weight when characters this arch are being formed out of a framework to facilitate its narrative needs and requirements as a broad-ranging blockbuster. It's hard to mark that against the film too harshly when many films like it have gotten off with audiences and critics for much worse in the past, but there are a few characters that are introduced and then dropped, and some of the motivations and connections between the characters could have used some clarification.
But they’re the preamble to the main event, which is watching the monsters fight one another as they all converge for the third act in Chicago. The context of the setting aside, this is the reason why people pay to see movies like this and it delivers on it rather splendidly. From sweeping shots that pay a knowing homage to the side-scrolling view of the game, to heavy brawls amongst ash and rubble as they scale and collapse buildings and flatten pedestrians, its an undeniably enjoyable experience held together by Peyton’s direction that only ramps up in tension because we care about the relationship between man and ape at the centre of it.
Although the bar has been so much lower thanks to every other adaptation in its field, Rampage unlocks the achievement of being the best video game adaptation ever made. A massively entertaining, spectacularly large blast of loud, dumb fun the likes of which this particular breed of blockbuster is rarely afforded in the name of sincere entertainment.