Tuesday 17 April 2018


Ape ‘n’ Stance

2018 USA Directed by  Brad Peyton
UK cinema release print.

Warning: Very slight spoliers.

I never played the 1980s classic arcade game that Rampage is based on... in fact, quite strangely, I don’t even remember it. So in terms of how good this is as an adaptation of that property, I can’t really say with much authority. That being said, since the ape, wolf and crocodile in the original game were apparently formerly humans in the back story... my guess is that this is more of a new story with some name checks rater than a faithful adaptation.

I wanted to see Rampage because I somehow really liked San Andreas by the same team of Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) and director Brad Peyton (and you can read my review of that one here). Also... I saw the trailer and any movie with an intelligent, giant ape in it... you can bet I’m up for that.

So Rampage starts off with a very strong opening which might, almost, make you think the cinema was showing the wrong movie. It’s like watching ten minutes of Gravity (reviewed here) as we start off in a space station which has been trashed by a giant rat from an escaped experiment and the one surviving member of the crew who is frantically floating around trying to survive... but she’s unable to release the escape capsule. In one fell swoop we are introduced to how evil the main antagonists of the movie are when they won’t release the locks on the capsule remotely from earth until she recovers the component parts of the experiment. But... you know... floating giant space rat! Things all come to a head when the lady in question finally manages to escape but then ends up dying anyway with the samples crashing to Earth in little mini cannisters. When various wildlife comes into contact with the gas excreted by the samples - a wolf, a crocodile and an albino ape in this case - it alters their DNA, grows them huge (and gives one or two of them some other impressive biological changes) and also makes them more aggressive.

Now the ape, known as George, has an impressive relationship with Davis Okoye, played by Dwayne Johnson. They can talk through sign language and George can also, pretty much, understand what Davis says to him. However, things get worse when the bad gal in charge of the organisation, who were doing their experiments in space because they would be banned on Earth, turns on a beacon which means the three, steadily growing behemoths all head towards Chicago to destroy said beacon.... which is also making them more aggressive. The evil plan being that the military will kill the beasts and the company can get DNA samples back from the bodies to continue their, potentially very lucrative, mad scientist ways. However, these beasts are pretty unbeatable and it’s up to The Rock, the always watchable Naomie Harris (as an ex-employee professor of the evil company) and OGA (other government agency) trouble shooter Harvey Russel, played by the brilliant Jeffrey Dean Morgan, to form an uneasy alliance and attempt to stop the destruction and, if possible, get George to calm down a bit.

And it all works really well. Yeah, it’s nonsense but it’s immensely entertaining nonsense and there’s never a dull moment. Midst all the action set pieces you have three great performances by the leads and there’s even some really nice shot compositions thrown into the movie...

One which particularly impressed me is fairly early on in the film where George has been caged in a lab in the wildlife place where Davis works. The room has a large window and we see Davis looking on in close up from the other side of the window. So we have The Rock’s head in deep focus filling the left of the screen and then, the focus shifts so his head blurs and we get the reflection of George the giant ape filling the right of the screen in sharp focus. Which is a nice touch but then it took me a moment to realise how great a shot it was because, the reflection must have all been a CGI effect which was then inserted. That’s a great way to use it rather than just cut back to the same CGI of the ape in the environment and it’s touches like this which show up the creative directors (regardless of the nature of the projects they choose to work on) from the merely competent ones. This was a really nice moment.

Now the other thing I really want to say about this movie is... it’s actually quite gory. The opening sequence has a dead guy floating around with his eye socket eaten out by the giant rat (presumably) and a floating, severed hand dripping blood... for example and there are some similarly grisly (and fun) scenes throughout the movie (when someone gets stepped on at one point they pretty much explode in a shower of blood). And there’s nothing wrong with that. However... the film is a 12A and there was a five or six year old child in the audience I was with. Now I don’t believe in most forms of censorship at all other than the obvious self censorship (if you don’t like it, don’t watch it) but the one thing I do think should be in place is a form of censorship for children. Because some can completely handle it (as, luckily, the child in the audience could... although he was scared by the IMAX logo animation) and some can’t, so I reckon 11 or 12 years of age might be the best place where the only age restriction might be. So a 12 would have been fine for this but I suspect some (by no means all) children would have a hard time with it. Heck, I remember the amount of crying kiddies there were in the audience for Raiders Of The Lost Ark back in 1981 when the nazis melted at the end so, yeah, maybe a stark '12-minus-the-A' rating is the only certification needed for any film. Something to think about.

For pretend adults like me, though, this stuff was all fine and throw in an Andrew Lockington score (which I hope gets a proper CD release at some point rather than the stupid electronic download shenanigans which should be made illegal until a proper physical copy comes out) and you have a recipe for a great action movie. I wasn’t expecting anything great from Rampage but what we have is a blockbuster type movie which is more than competent with some great chemistry between the actors (they really need to put The Rock and Morgan in a few more films together), a strong female co-star who isn’t just there to be rescued and some nice looking carnage which isn’t over edited and which you can follow fairly easily. A great night out at the cinema if you want to see something which is just plain fun.

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