Orbiting the Earth is a space station where something has gone terribly wrong onboard: an experiment using a technique banned on the surface that has resulted in the occupants being killed by one of their creations. The idea was to research genetics, but all that they now have to show for it is a giant rat that has devoured the crew, apart from one scientist (Marley Shelton) who grabs the canisters of formula and ejects from the station in the escape pod. Alas, the capsule breaks up as the station explodes, and she dies, but the canisters survive, three crashing to the ground where they come into contact with three animals - with surprising consequences for the world.
Well, not that surprising, this was a giant monster movie as everyone could tell, so we were gifted with a trio of huge creatures, a gorilla, a wolf and an alligator which proceeded to lay waste to the United States of America. This was based on a computer game from 1986 that was popular in the arcades, but before you run for the hills having been warned off gaming-based movies before thanks to their notorious low quality, you should be aware Rampage was streets ahead of all of those, thanks to its embracing of a big, stupid concept and really dedicating itself to the format with a curious sincerity that proved disarming. Though not a comedy, it was pretty funny in places.
Although you couldn't quite tell if it was being funny on purpose or whether they really believed the pathos-fuelled scenes were put across with the utmost wholeheartedness and would not have the audience tittering. No, it wasn't remotely intellectual, but it didn't need to be: there was a conservation message cheekily smuggled in, but in the main this was designed for spectacle, with no irony in the fact that computer graphics had advanced to the point that a basic, 2D game from the eighties would be enhanced with photorealistic imagery to make the idea of a giant gorilla knocking over buildings into less of a way to dispose of your pocket money and more a state of genuine peril.
Our star was just about the only celebrity in movies whose outsize charisma could match the outsize beasts on display, and he was The Rock, or Dwayne Johnson as he was calling himself post-wrestling. Although you would have trouble accepting him in, say, a sensitive domestic drama, in material like this he was perfectly cast, a cartoonish hero who the screenwriters obviously twigged that having him dote over the gorilla would make him all the more endearing (hence the environmental theme that a fair few giant monster movies sneaked in). Among those writers was Ryan Engle, who was showing fine form in concocting daft, B-movie plots for impressively-budgeted movies, and Rampage was no exception, the key being that no matter how ludicrous it got, allow the audience to find that element and enjoy it: don't order us about.
Johnson was playing a primatologist with a mysterious background combatting poachers in Africa who has wound up in San Diego looking after their gorillas in a research park, and in true Koko style has a way with communicating with the gorillas through sign language. When his best bud, an albino named George, is struck by one of the canisters and begins to grow, he understandably doesn't want him to come to harm, but the ruthless corporate shark (Malin Akerman) - not an actual shark, giant or otherwise - behind the experiments wants their results to head to Chicago for further genetic tinkering. This was as involved as it could get as a set-up for the extended finale where the monsters smash up The Windy City, but that was part of the amusement, it was like waiting for a punchline you knew but were enjoying anticipating nevertheless. Naomie Harris was the regulation beautiful lady scientist (the film's heart was in fifties science fiction), and Jeffrey Dean Morgan was the possibly shady government man who comes good in the end, but you either got on with something so preposterous or you didn't - Johnson calls out "George!" so many times it sounds like a punchline. Music by Andrew Lockington.
[Rampage is now available digitally and on DVD, 4K Ultra HD & Blu-Ray on 20th August.]