Let’s face it: whenever we see a trailer featuring Dwayne Johnson in the midst of some over-the-top action film, we know that the charm will come from watching him chewing up the scenery. In recent years it has only become more of a truism — from Moana to Baywatch to Jumanji, it’s been clear that he’s just having a grand ol’ time. Settling in for Rampage, with its giant genetically modified creatures tearing up a city, it would be a sure thing… wouldn’t it? Sadly, no, not really.
We open with a view of the International Space Station, but after a nice-looking shot of it sailing along, we notice that the solar panels are trembling a bit. That’s not right — there’s not enough atmosphere 254 miles above the Earth to cause that kind of impact. Suddenly a piece tears away, and there’s debris all around the station. Cutting inside, there’s destruction everywhere, floating dead bodies of astronauts, and one remaining crew member desperately trying to get to the lifeboat. Alright, I’d expected something akin to Big Ass Spider!, but it’s already got a more dramatic tone and tension than anywhere to have been found in last year’s Life.
The hapless astronaut manages to salvage a few research canisters and escape the ISS, but it’s too late. The lifeboat is also destroyed and the canisters fall back to Earth. Various creatures come across them on the ground and a gas escapes causing them to begin mutating and growing. Rapidly. A lot. And they’ve got really bad tempers and are headed for Chicago. One of the three animals affected is George, a sign language-speaking albino Gorilla whose human protector is Davis Okoye (played by Johnson — who also happens to be the singularly most ripped primatologist in history). Davis is a goof and a prankster and has the same smolder special ability that Johnson had in Jumanji. George plays jokes on Davis and the zoo trainees.
That’s where the film’s ambitions get pulled down to Earth: it doesn’t know what tone to strike and where to aim. One moment it’ll be lighthearted jokes and mediocre one-liners (of the sort that even John McClane would groan at), the next it’s a dour action film with blood and graphic deaths. It makes it wildly uneven and it seems to have even Johnson not sure when to laugh it off and when to be grim.
There’s plenty of call-outs throughout the film, being peppered liberally with scenes more than passingly similar to Aliens, Predator, Die Hard, and the Skyscraper trailer. There’s also an original Rampage machine in a number of scenes. So, if the story starts to drag, keep an eye around the edge of the scene and see what references you can spot.
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