Rampage is this year's Kong: Skull Island - which means that its primary raison d'être is to show giant monsters slugging it out, while tiny humans scurry about beneath them, trying to avoid becoming collateral damage. It's also a showcase for Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson to look brawny and in control, even with an entire city collapsing around his imposing shaven head. In other words, the film stands or falls on whether or not it's a good time.
It's certainly not smart, based as it is on the 'Rampage' video game, where humans transform into monstrous versions of themselves. In the movie adaptation it's animals that do the transforming, an amoral corporation having cooked up the requisite technology based on genetic editing. This gets accidentally unleashed outside the lab, so that affected creatures turn into gigantic mutated versions of themselves, complete with advanced anger issues. One such creature is George, an albino silverback gorilla trained in sign language by primatologist Davis Okoye (Johnson). Soon George, along with the other really nasty beasties, is achieving Kong-like proportions and going on the expected rampage all across Wyoming, while Chicago braces itself for impact.
This really is as daft as it sounds, with a screenplay full of tired disaster-movie tropes, under-developed characters and lame exposition. Expectations remain pretty low during the first half, despite some nicely played scenes between Johnson and a very convincing motion-capture George the gorilla. Then the critters go super-sized to the point where they can snack on military aircraft, and stupidity no longer matters. Entertainment has been achieved in grand style.
Why I found the carnage on display here so entertaining when that in the recent Pacific Rim: Uprising bored me to near-oblivion is a tricky one. Maybe it's because the beasts are relatively few and the action rendered superbly, so that it all stays easy to follow. It's also gloriously tongue-in-cheek; whatever its deficiencies elsewhere, this film is healthily aware of its own ridiculousness. Plus the climactic sequences are based around a mere handful of central characters, everyone else having been either splatted or sidelined. Whatever the reasons, the final third of the film is a highly satisfying monster smackdown, 'The Rock' proving his star credentials simply by not being overshadowed.
Naomie Harris (Oscar-nominated for her role in Moonlight) also makes the best of her dual role as Scientist-Who-Explains-Stuff and Feisty-Romantic-Interest, sparring gamely with Johnson and overcoming some truly dire expository dialogue with panache. Meanwhile Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy play cardboard-cutout corporate villains, whose chief purpose is to get squished nastily in the final act. (That's not a spoiler - in this kind of movie you know they're going to buy it, just not how.) And Jeffrey Dean Morgan, The Walking Dead's uber-villain Negan, shows up as a swaggering government agent and basically ripping off his own performance from the TV show. When your co-stars are mutant mega-beasts, subtlety is not an option.
Rampage is a film where a city gets cheerfully demolished and where countless anonymous extras die screaming, while the heroes deliver wise-cracks and care more (along with us) about poor gorilla George. It's full of ridiculous science and ludicrous plotting from beginning to end. But it also boasts great-looking, beautifully sustained action - a 1950s-style creature-feature with 2018 production values. Daft, totally. Throwaway, that too. But it's daft, throwaway fun. And in the end that's what matters.
Gut Reaction: Cliched screen-writing got me down at first. Then halfway through I started laughing at the craziness, and pretty well didn't stop till the end.
Where Are the Women?: Naomie Harris is given smarts and agency as geneticist Dr Kate, and is clearly having a ball in the role. We like that.
Ed's Verdict: 6/10. Really dopey. But gamely played by the leads (including the guy who did the motion-capture for George) and packing a spectacular final-act monster mash-up. Could be classed as a guilty pleasure - only I don't even feel guilty.