Rampage (2018) makes a monkey out of the video game movie curse

Opening with a better version of the movie “Life” than “Life” itself managed to provide, “Rampage” sees perennial box-office bester Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson take on his most difficult opponent yet: a video game adaptation.

When illegal space-based genetic experimentation crashes back down to Earth, it has an immediate and unfortunate effect on the wildlife. While the sponsors of the research, the villainous Wyden siblings (Malin Akerman & Jake Lacy), seek a way to recover the genetic code from the afflicted animals, dedicated Primatologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) is determined to save his buddy George, a rare albino Gorilla, with the help of discredited scientist Dr Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) and O.G. ‘OGA’ Agent Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).

There’s no denying The Rock is on a roll and, having propelled a fictional video game adaptation to the top of Sony’s Box Office league table, who’d bet against him breaking the video game movie curse? Paying lip service to the video game its based on, the movie takes the idea of giant mutated animals rampaging through a major metropolitan area and runs with it. For the film version, the monsters don’t mutate from humans (you don’t pay to have The Rock in your movie only to replace him with a CGI simian) but instead are innocent animals affected by the Wydens’ experimental ‘Project: Rampage’. You have to hand it to the Wydens, they are killing it with the nominative determinism aspect of their project planning.

It’s not just Chicago which takes another beating in “Rampage”, the movie is happy to smash and grab from any number of previous sci-fi actioners, notably the “Transformers” series and, bizarrely, “Congo” but as usual, Johnson manages to carry the whole ridiculous mess on his broad shoulders. His earnest, cheesy charm and swagger enough to keep things goofy and fun through the peaks and troughs of action. Director and frequent Rock collaborator Brad Peyton handles the CGI-heavy production deftly and makes sure that the performances complement and support the action set-pieces and even manages to elicit some real pathos when George and Lizzie (the giant crocodile/ porcupine?) go toe to toe in a demolition derby that unironically and emphatically suggests we are now in a post-post-9/11 age of wanton destruction.

Although the rest of the cast are good value and are clearly having great fun chewing the scenery and dialogue, it’s The Rock’s movie. As well as providing a better version of the movie “Life”, “Rampage” also manages to do the whole plane crash sequence from “The Mummy” better too. In fact, if Universal really want to salvage their Dark Universe, they should be getting the chequebook out and re-signing the once-was-Scorpion King. Warners need to get on and get his Black Adam into production to help restore the DCEU and, quite honestly, if Fox (or Disney/ Marvel) are ever serious about making a success of “The Fantastic Four”, they should lock in Johnson as their Ben Grimm/ The Thing right now.

Bloodier and more violent than you might be expecting – this must be pushing the boundary of the 12A certification – it still played like gangbusters to the target audience I saw it with, Mertmas and a school pal; both came out raving about it and I’m pretty sure playground word of mouth is going to keep this buoyant at the box office until at least, oh, say April 26th. Forget “Pacific Rim: Uprising”, if you’re 12 years old this summer, “Rampage” is where it’s at when it comes to a giant monster demolition derbies.