Don’t Look Down.
What happens when the biggest guns in Hollywood, those of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, take on the biggest edifice in the world? Well, ladies and gents, the answer is simple: it’s Skyscraper, a Towering Inferno (1974) meets Die Hard (1988) mash-up that harkens back to the frivolous high-stakes actioners from the ’70s and ’80s. If you check your brain at the door, you’re guaranteed to have a hell of a time.
Helmed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, a guy who’s pretty much built a career on erecting comedies — think Central Intelligence (2016) and We’re the Millers (2013) — Skyscraper stands as the 43-year-old moviemaker’s first ‘serious’ outing, even if proceedings do wind up being (in parts) laugh-out-loud funny, the movie extremely entertaining due to its hare-brained plot, cheesy dialogue and outlandish (near-preposterous) action and thrills, which are all played straight. Speaking of plot, the story is probably more knotty than it needs to be — after all, people just wanna see Uncle DJ’s one-man army take on a bunch of foreign goons inside of a flaming 225-storey structure.
Written by Marshall Thurber — in his second collaboration with The Rock — the film follows former U.S. soldier Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson), an amputee with a prosthetic leg who (trading his firearms for a nine-to-five) works as a contractor assessing security for soaring skyscrapers. We first meet Sawyer about 10 years earlier, when he was leader of a top tier FBI Hostage Rescue Team, the bald-headed badass losing his left leg when an uneasy confrontation in a small cabin goes sideways. But, hey, it’s not all bad, as Sawyer eventually falls for his naval medic, Sarah (Neve Campbell), while recovering in hospital. Fast-forward a decade and Sawyer is now father to two 8-year-old non-identical twins, Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell), happily married and still head over heals in love with Sarah, who’s now his wife.
Currently on a job in Hong Kong, China, Sawyer and his family find themselves staying in one of the luxurious residential suites of The Pearl, the tallest and most advanced skyscraper in the world, a fictional state-of-the-art wonder (which feels more like a vertical city rather than a traditional high-rise) almost three times the size of the Empire State Building. Heck, it’s even got a cascading waterfall inside. A mammoth technological/ engineering triumph, The Pearl is the brainchild of Chinese software developer Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han), but before the billionaire builder can open it up to the world’s rich and famous, he’ll have to get it secured and insured, The Pearl needed to withstand any natural or manmade disaster. And that’s where Sawyer comes in. Recruited by his ex-squadron partner Ben (Pablo Schreiber), who’s now employed as The Pearl’s head of security — Ben being another survivor of that horrible, fateful standoff — Sawyer is given a chance to meet with Zhao, the Chinese mogul, to prove his worth as a security risk expert.
Unfortunately, things don’t go according to plan, as the beefed-up baldy is set-up as a ‘fall guy’ by a diabolical group of international mobsters — headed by mercenary Kores Botha (Roland Møller) — who are after a MacGuffin that’s secretly stashed away somewhere on The Pearl’s penthouse floor. In order to obtain it, they set the tower alight, the criminals unaware that Sawyer’s family is trapped above the raging inferno with no way down. Now, on the run from local law enforcement, fronted by elite Hong Kong officer Inspector Wu (Byron Mann), Sawyer must clear his name whilst rescuing his endangered wife and kids, Will (pushed to his limits) forced to face some of the most extreme circumstances imaginable. Clearly, all of this leads up to Johnson’s ridiculous 100-storey ‘crane jump’ back into The Pearl, this the first of many ludicrous set pieces, each blowing logic and the laws of physics sky high.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Skyscraper is no Die Hard, despite the fact that our protagonist tries to one-up John McClane by doing everything he did using only one leg. Unlike the aforementioned, though, the characters here are fairly one-dimensional, each playing to stereotype, while the narrative itself feels safe and predictable, Skyscraper lacking any real thought or take-away message. The antagonists, in particular, are very thinly written, with Roland Møller’s villain having little in the way of motive, dissimilar to Die Hard’s Hans Gruber, the internationally feared German terrorist brilliantly played by the late, great Alan Rickman. Furthermore, the flick’s numerous plot twists and betrayals are masked rather poorly — Noah Taylor’s Mr. Pierce, for instance, screams ‘bad buy’ from the get-go — this perhaps due to Marshall Thurber’s inexperience in writing suspense. My main gripe with the entire picture, however, is its watered-down violence, most of the action feeling a tad ‘cut’; some choppy editing suggests that the film may have been trimmed to fit into the States’ preferred PG-13 rating — annoying!
With that said, Skyscraper wholly delivers as disposable escapist fun, the movie’s CGI-infused, architecturally-charged action and far-fetched edge-of-your-seat moments destined to put a smile on your dial. ‘This is stupid,’ Will Sawyer at one point utters, right before taking on his next gravity-defying challenge — yes, folks, stupid it is!
With Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit, There Will Be Blood (2007), shooting the flick, Skyscraper is stunning to look at. For starters, the striking firelight, which illuminates the cast, makes it feel as though characters are truly engulfed by flames, while the gleaming Hong Kong skyline adds an ethereal quality to the silliness, the visuals possessing a distinct oriental flavor. The sheer beauty of the imagery makes me wonder why an esteemed artist — who’s worked with the likes of prolific filmmakers Paul Thomas Anderson and George Clooney — would agree to take on such a mindless project. Go figure! And then there’s the titular construction. Made up of swirling organic lines, the gargantuan, soft-angled skyscraper is hugely alluring, its twisting design kinda resembling the shape of a dragon, which, at its peak, holds a sphere-like ‘pearl’ in its mouth. In addition, the pulse-pounding score by composer Steve Jablonsky, Transformers (2007), aptly raises tension, the whole thing capped off by a cool blues-infused rock ballad titled ‘Walls’ (performed by Jamie N Commons), which plays over the bumper credits.
The charismatic Mr. Johnson, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017), smoulders once more as hulking hero Will Sawyer, a changed war veteran who’s forced to rely on his former training, and rolls of duck tape, if he wishes to save his family! ‘If you can’t fix it with duct tape, you’re not using enough duct tape,’ Sawyer asserts, the should-be extreme sports paralympian choosing to scale the outside of the blazing spire using (you guessed it!) duck tape in place of suction cups — ingenious! Elsewhere, it’s nice to see scream-queen Neve Campbell, Scream (1996), back on the big screen, even if her character does next to nothing.
With the film being financed by Legendary Entertainment (owned by Chinese multinational conglomerate Wanda Group), Skyscraper sports a large number of Asian stars, most of which, regrettably, fail to leave a mark. Really, it’s only Taiwanese-Australian actress/ model Hannah Quinlivan, The Shanghai Job (2017), who catches the eye as the leather-clad vixen Xia, her limited scenes of badassery being some of the movie’s finest.
Fortunately, Skyscraper scrapes by thanks to the movie-star magnetism of the big fella himself, Dwayne Johnson. And, at a manageable 102 minutes, it doesn’t outstay its welcome. Granted, a healthy amount of suspension of disbelief is required as Skyscraper takes absurdity to soaring new heights. So yeah, it’s dim-witted and derivative, but it’s this adrenaline-pumping over-the-top nature that makes this one so darn enjoyable. And look, if you do take the jump, you won’t get bored, that’s for sure!
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by S-Littner