Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jake Lacy, Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Directed by Brad Peyton.
If there was ever a film for which a review was unneeded it may very well be this one. That being said, for those who do need to read what is thought of a film full of Dwayne Johnson , character actors, with an Oscar nominee and Brad Peyton directing, then this is the place to be.
Brad Peyton, teaming up with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for the third time – after Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and San Andreas – revamps an old and mainly forgotten video game into one of the year’s weirdest blockbusters so far.
Zoologist Davis Okoye teams up with disgraced scientist Dr Kate Caldwell and federal agent Harvey Russell to rescue his best pal, a giant Albino gorilla named George, who has been transformed into a big bad monkey thanks to corporate baddies.
It’s incredible to think that a pro-wrestler with incredible eyebrow game has become one of Hollywood’s most valuable stars. In an age in which the 80s era muscle monster star has vanished, The Rock is a man who calls it back to mind. It’s fortunate that he’s a man built of pure muscle and charm, because even his lesser efforts get by based on how he can turn a joke or run like a freight train. Here as Davis Okoye he’s at his most Rock-tacular. He’s in a tight t-shirt, he’s caring, he doesn’t do well with people, he’s about to throw a smackdown on people, and he’s got a massive gun. Having salvaged the Fast and Furious franchise (despite earning the ire of two of its stars – Sorry Vin, sorry Tyrese), Johnson continues to star in 80s style movies that coast on his natural ability to be a thoroughly charming man.
Peyton, perhaps overjoyed that his previous Johnson film made money, has repeated much of the same formula. Here he makes sure Johnson does a lot of running, delivers a monologue about trauma and finds every reason for him to get in a helicopter (three if you’re interested). Much like San Andreas, he’s also paired Johnson with a supporting cast that know to put their sunglasses on when The Rock is shining bright.
Naomie Harris and Jeffrey Dean Morgan are perfectly pitched as his begrudging allies who become friends, able to maintain a straight face when pretending a giant Wolf is going mental in downtown Chicago. Despite Harris clearly unwinding after Moonlight’s intense – and short – shoot, she brings a level of humanity to Caldwell without ever having it be just another “I’m the Rock’s sidekick role”. Morgan appears to still be on his The Walking Dead setting with his southern drawl, ever-present smirk and a little facial fuzz. But then again, Morgan has always been one of the best actors who’s yet to break the big leagues.
Despite that, there are missteps. Giant Johnson and Giant Gorilla vs Croc-monster and Wolf-thing is a great concept for a movie. Wolf – bad, crocodile – bad, those are your villains. Unfortunately, the film feels the need to put Malin Ackerman and Jake Lacy in as corporate baddies. Not only this, but the script seems to have asked them to basically play Pokemon’s Team Rocket. It’s too over-egged for its own good and grates.
Meanwhile the always reliable Joe Manganiello as a scarred up leader of a private military team is hinted at a human antagonist that Johnson can throw down with, but this leads nowhere, which sort of undercuts the great work done in introducing him in such an interesting manner.
There is also a problem with the third act which falls into the much boring military not taking the threat seriously. The whole bomb count down was done better in The Avengers and now appears to be the default way of making the climax more tense – as if a Gorilla punching a wolf and a crocodile wasn’t tense enough.
Perhaps it’s lucky then that Peyton clearly saw Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island and does a sort of mishmash of that plus Peter Jackson’s loving Kong remake. When it comes to George vs Crocodile monster, it’s like Peyton is basically waving at Roberts and saying “your movie is great, mind if I pinch the fight scene at the end?” He does it well, and it’s when the film hits its pace.
The score by Andrew Lockington is also amazingly thrilling and has enough triumphant themes to make him an intriguing composer.
When it comes to big dumb blockbusters no one is more sure-footed than The Rock and when it comes to him, a big Gorilla and some other monsters, there’s nothing an eleven year old wouldn’t want to see, frankly, anyone who isn’t a little bit thrilled by it might have to check their pulse.
Paul Klein is a Film Studies Graduate from London, former writer at The Metropolist.