Rampage review: Fake gorilla makes a monkey of Dwayne Johnson's acting ability
M, 107 minutes
What's the difference between Dwayne Johnson and an 800-tonne computer-generated gorilla called George? To be brutally honest, the gorilla is a better actor – or at least, his creators have given him a greater range of expressions. And to more brutally honest, nobody cares.
Forbes estimated that Johnson made $US68 million in 2017, making him the second highest paid male star in the world, behind Mark Wahlberg. Johnson was No.1 a year earlier but Transformers: The Last Knight kicked Wahlberg up a notch. Much of Johnson's loot came from the vroom-vroom franchise he shares with Vin Diesel (Fast and Furious, now in its umpteenth iteration).
On a deeper level, Johnson's success is based on two simple truths – little kids love his superhero-sized muscles and the rest of America (and to some extent, the world) loves his smile. He plays nice guys who never finish last, and all of his characters have a big heart. His guns (both arms and arms, if you get my drift) are just as big as those of Stallone and Schwarzenegger in their heyday, but he doesn't have the sneer or the cyborg amorality. Indeed, he's more like a very large puppy.
His product is his white-bread wholesomeness, which is odd given that he is of Afro-Canadian and Samoan descent, with a little Irish. That mocha colour might also be part of the success: he appeals across the races in a country where that is rare, which means he can be cast opposite any leading lady, of any colour, and the redneck states don't get rowdy about it.
In Rampage, the delightful Naomie Harris plays a researcher whose gene-editing techniques are exploited by corrupt siblings Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman) and her vapid brother Brett (Jake Lacy), who run a genetics company.
Their space experiments go wrong and infect a group of gorillas at San Diego Zoo, where Davis Okoye (Johnson) is head of primatology.
Davis is a former special forces type who spent years fighting poachers in Africa. His best friend is a magnificent albino silverback named George, who has learnt sign-language. One thing Davis doesn't seem to have learnt is that you never look a silverback in the eye for long unless you want a fight, but then, this movie's relationship to real science is about as real as George the albino gorilla.
George is a gentle giant until he gets exposed to the mad-science goo. The vile growth compound infects a wolf in Montana and a crocodile in the Florida Everglades at the same time. Pretty soon, all three beasts – doubling in size each day – converge on the skyscraper in Chicago where the Wydens have their headquarters. Naturally, there's a tower on top for King George Kong to swing on.
A number of things should be obvious: it's King Kong with the mutation ideas from the rebooted Planet of the Apes, scaled up like Transformers and Godzilla so the creatures can trash whole cities.
In that sense, there's not a new idea to be had, but there is one key difference between this and the original 1980s video game on which it's ostensibly based. The gorilla, wolf and lizard in the game were humans transformed by rogue science. The movie prefers to transform animals, for reasons that remain opaque. Human forms might require larger hard drives, I guess.
At another level – and like so many movies in this big, loud and destructive end of the spectrum – it's yet another metaphor for what happened on September 11, 2001, only with furry critters instead of terrorists.
Gigantic mutated animals are both easier to understand and easier to kill. They require no mental exertions or self-examination, which is just as well, because the movie does not encourage cerebral activity. It's big, loud and stupid and proud to be so.
Canadian-born director Brad Peyton made San Andreas with Dwayne Johnson in 2015. He knows how to get humour and charm from the big lug, although to be fair, that's not so hard. Dwayne's real skills as an actor are comedic. He doesn't take any of this acting malarky seriously, and neither do his fans. He comes from professional wrestling, after all. If you can make that look real, anything else is a doddle.