Looking at The Rock’s trajectory in this movie poster, there’s simply no way he could have made it, right? ‘Skyscraper’ screws physics and logic to disprove this.
These days, Dwayne Johnson has been churning out blockbuster movies faster than any other action star—like he’s a film studio himself. Not to mention his ongoing HBO show Ballers, the Jumanji remake that just came out December last year, followed by the arcade game adaptation Rampage four months after, and now he braves a blazing mega high-rise tower filled with terrorists in Skyscraper. This film should fall more into the generic category of his filmography. But being one of the most likeable and bankable stars in Hollywood, ‘The Rock’ once again spins this outrageous, mindless flick, into something entertaining and armrest-gripping. If this is your kind of cinematic comfort food, feel free to knock yourself out.
This film unabashedly takes cues from the Die Hard classic and 1974’s The Towering Inferno, with its distributor Universal even mimicking/paying homage to their movie posters. But amidst the derivative screenplay, Johnson’s character is a welcome change – Will Sawyer is probably the first amputee action hero in the history of cinema. A military veteran who now works as a building security assessor, he is a breadwinner for his ex-military surgeon wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and their twin children, Georgia and Henry (McKenna Roberts and Noah Cotrell). Will is hired as a security consultant for The Pearl that houses over 200 self-sustaining residential and commercial floors – it’s crazy tall enough to oust Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. Resting on top of the building is the eponymous pearl which features an interior that can digitally morph into any environment. Its multi-billionaire owner/architect Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han) has installed so much state-of-the-art design in this tower that you might as well be watching a sci-fi film. Spoiler alert, most of this green-screen glory will go into flames.
The fire is caused by an unremarkable group of terrorists led by Kores Botha (Roland Møller), incidentally trapping Will’s family in the 96th floor. It’s all for the sake of acquiring a heavily guarded MacGuffin that you couldn’t care less because it has absolute no connection to Will’s story. The rushed plot merely acts as a bridge to connect all the ensuing action pieces, hence the film feels like it’s based on a video game more than Rampage has been. Hong Kong is cleverly selected as the film’s setting and several asian actors are cast into thankless supporting roles in an attempt to attract the Chinese movie market. Skyscraper is a pretty much standard and calculated action flick.
Still, familiarity does not get in the way of entertainment as Skyscraper successfully adds itself to the compendium of The Rock’s greatest hits, defying every reasonable law of physics to elevate the tension to its peak. A quick glance at its improbable poster alone tells that a huge amount of suspension of disbelief is prescribed to fully enjoy this film. Will is humanized in the beginning as he attaches his prosthetic leg and takes his daily dose of painkillers. It’s an effective set-up to all the superhuman stuff he’ll do to save his family.
And so, equipped with an endless amount of valor, Will climbs a 500-foot construction crane in a matter of minutes. Still, he has the stamina to make perilous jumps and hold bridge railings thanks to his unparalleled, god-like, upper body strength. Along the way, he also gets stabbed, tased and engulfed with flames and shattered glass. Johnson is big and strong enough to hold the monstrosity of the action but there is no exaggeration when I say that he turned into Mr. Incredible over the course of this film. A helicopter takes a live feed of Will’s endeavors while the film quick cuts to a crowd of terrified Chinese spectators below, as if they’re watching a very intense and death-defying episode of American Ninja Warrior. Escapism is the name of the game.
Director Rawson Marshall Thurber exploits every shred of acrophobia from its viewers, effectively giving you the vertigo. At one point, Will traverses the exterior of a building like Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, except in here, he uses duct tapes as suction cups. Also, once in a while, the film reminds us that Will is an amputee by utilizing his prosthetic leg during some critical scenes. But enough of Johnson, the biggest revelation here is Neve Campbell (lead of the Scream franchise) who’s no damsel in distress as she impresses with her own set of stunts. A career as an action heroine is worthy of consideration.
Overall, Skyscraper throws logic out of the window to sustain its irresistible, over-the-top thrills. But as long as you find the Sawyer family likeable enough to root for them, this should work. The stunts are vertigo-inducing yet much emphasis is placed on the mechanics over character and plot development to live up against Die Hard. Plus, it definitely lacks a memorable villain to begin with. Johnson remarks in one scene, “This is stupid.” The same sentiment can be said for the film. Stupid, yet fun is still an acceptable form of summer diversion.
3 out of 5 stars
Distributed by Universal Pictures, ‘Skyscraper’ starring Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Møller, Noah Taylor, Byron Mann, Pablo Schreiber, Hannah Quinlivan, McKenna Roberts and Noah Cotrell. Written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber. Runtime: 102 minutes.