An outsized force of nature is running amok in your local multiplex – and I haven’t even gotten to the giant albino gorilla.
Fresh off the massive success of Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is channelling his considerable brawn, breezy charm, and smouldering charisma into a project that, despite its roots in a 1986 arcade game, feels like a throwback to a dumber, more innocent time.
Directed by San Andreas’ Brad Peyton, Rampage is part classic disaster movie and part King-Kong-as-bromance. Despite this, the movie plays it straight, relatively speaking; letting the innate absurdity of the premise do most the heavy lifting, entertainment-wise.
Johnson is Davis Okoye, dedicated primatologist and former Special Forces bad-ass. His best friend just so happens to be George, the aforementioned giant albino gorilla, who gets substantially more giant, and dangerously aggressive, when a mysterious canister crashes down in his enclosure . As chance would have it – and really, what are the odds? – George isn’t the only exotic animal to come in contact with the gene editing space debris.
As such, Davis must set out to save not only his buddy but possibly the world. Or at least downtown Chicago.
There’s no lack of options when it comes to smashing up major American metropolises – Chicago seems to be a preferred spot for monsters/aliens/giant robots alike – but Rampage manages a few memorable beats within the now-familiar formula: a colossal, spiny wolf stalking a misty forest; boats rising with the passage of an even larger, nigh-on indestructible horned alligator.
Naomie Harris brings both a lightness and a realism to good-guy bio-engineer Kate Caldwell while Jeffrey Dean Morgan offers value for money as smirking government frenemy Harvey Russell, but Malin Akerman can’t do anything with her oh-so generic evil CEO role (Jake Lacy fares slightly better as her schlubby Patrick Bateman brother), whose plan for a cover-up involves turning them both into monster bait.
Unfortunately, though, its these less satisfying touches that define Rampage, which never quite stakes out its claim to any new blockbuster territory: a plane crash sequence recalls both xXx3 and The Mummy while a military massacre caught on helmet-cam is straight out of Jurassic World. The somewhat more specific giant-ape-hits-giant-reptile-with-makeshift-baseball-bat was recently seen in Kong: Skull Island.
Even Johnson, who seems himself to have been genetically engineered to carry this sort of movie, can’t do much to elevate Rampage beyond baseline entertainment territory. Oh, well. They can’t all be classics.
A Quiet Place
From the ridiculous to the sublime, A Quiet Place is a film that most definitely does not call for the soda-slurping, popcorn-munching crowd.
Based on an ingeniously simple concept, the film follows the Abbots, a traditional family unit leading an isolated existence in the rural American Midwest in the aftermath of a global cataclysm.
Newspaper headlines document the eradication of noisy mankind, unable to adapt to the arrival of a new apex predator that hunts by sound. Make a noise – anything above a whisper – and you have, at best, a few moments before one or more of them rushes in and gobbles you up.
As you might imagine, director-lead actor John Krasinski works this for maximum tension – every footstep is one through hostile territory, and a succession of well-conceived set-pieces that draw from the likes of Alien and Jaws. A Quiet Place is less a horror, though, than an old-fashioned sci-fi thriller; as much a throwback in its way as Rampage.
Father Lee (Krasinski), bearded and stoic, is the protector – the strong and, by necessity, silent type. Evelyn (Emily Blunt, Krasinski’s spouse IRL) is wife, mother, and homemaker. Kids Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Regan (Wonderstruck‘s Millicent Simmonds) wisely subscribe to the adage “seen and not heard”. They’ve already had an object lesson in failure to do so.
The film’s script, written by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, doesn’t over-complicate things with mythology or explanations: we never learn where the creatures come from or how they got here. The Abbots aren’t out to save the world, merely trying to survive – which is neither easily said nor done when every footstep could prove fatal and just turning a prescription bottle to read the label requires the same care as bomb defusal.
Despite living an existence where every footstep could mean doom, A Quiet Place nevertheless retains a sense of life going on: Lee and Evelyn slow dancing with headphones in; Reagan’s raw, baby-faced defiance in the face of her disability; even the careworn Marcus musters the occasional smile.
The absence of verbal dialogue – the family communicate in American Sign Language and the first word isn’t spoken till forty minutes in – places much of the dramatic burden on Marcus Beltrami’s score. It evokes Nick Cave’s work in The Assassination Of Jesse James; slipping between chiming piano and stirring strings, flaring into discord whenever the creatures are in the vicinity. It also features one of the all-time great screen screams, which is all the more heartrending in the midst of near-complete silence.
Rumours have been circulating that A Quiet Place could have been a Cloverfield movie, which makes a certain amount of sense given the Paramount connection. While a living-room experience would certainly have cut down on audience disruption, this is exactly the sort of mid-budget genre fare that makes a perfect lead-in to blockbuster season.
At a lean, effective ninety-five minutes, if you’re anything like me, this one will have you creeping contentedly out of the cinema.