Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Writer: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han
I’ve been a huge fan of Dwayne Johnson for twenty years now and I followed his jump from WWE superstar to Hollywood action hero with great intrigue. He’s got that rare combination of charismatic charm and humour that makes him the perfect leading man for films like Skyscraper. His name usually would be a enough alone to draw people out too, regardless of the standard, supporting cast or setting. Sadly though, this wasn’t to be the case for his latest foray into a summer blockbuster.
I’ve seen people describing it as box office flop, heralding Dwayne Johnson fatigue and the films Asian setting as the primary reasons. The latter holds more weight for me, but let’s be frank here, the film isn’t actually a flop at all. Sure, it imploded in the states, where its popularity should’ve been the greatest, but it’s total gross is sitting just shy of $300m and over double its budget. I don’t believe for a minute there’s any fatigue for this generations Arnie in cinema going audiences either. Skyscraper just isn’t that good a film and that’s absolutely fine. These things can happen.
It’s directed by a man already acquainted with our leading star and who’s films I’ve quite enjoyed actually. Rawson Marshall Thurber helmed Central Intelligence, the film that sparked the Kevin Hart/Dwayne Johnson bromance. I knew him more for comedies like Easy A prior to his 2016 hybrid comedy/action effort and whilst I’d love to give him a bye for Skyscraper’s averageness, I just can’t. He wrote the bloody thing too.
That’s coming off like I absolutely detested this film and it’s up there with the worst I’ve ever seen in Phoenix Forgotten (that’s a personal running joke), but I didn’t and it’s not. I went into watch this on a quiet day, full of boredom and it was never one that I intended to see in a theatre. That classic phrase, idle hands are the devils work, came to mint however and so off I went. I had little expectation and having seen the equally ridiculous San Andreas, which is getting a sequel bizarrely, that gave me a sense of what was to come. I.e. thread bare plot and character development, choc full of action, CG and corny one liners.
And it didn’t disappoint in the least. It was everything I thought it would be and more. It ticked all of the Dwayne Johnson action flick boxes. Not all of those ticked boxes equate to positive emotions mind you.
Will Sawyer (Johnson), is an ex-FBI hostage team leader and war veteran, who’s been forced into the more sedate job of skyscraper security adviser. Why do you ask? Well, because he lost a leg in an explosion. It’s not all bad though, this unfortunate event brought his wife and subsequently his two children into the picture. Who incidentally are Sarah (Neve Campbell), Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell). His new found laidback lifestyle, a decade on doesn’t last though. His old FBI bud (Pablo Schreiber) gets him the gig reviewing the security at the Pearl, the worlds tallest skyscraper, at three times the size of the Empire State Building.
The building’s visionary and architect, Zhao Min Zhi (Chin Han), is being extorted by a rival gangster group, headed up by Kores Botha (Rolland Møller), who control the construction workers however and it’s this flashpoint that ultimately leads to the roaring fire ninety floors up. Will is blamed for this, leading to a sticky start, trying to evade the police, whilst scrambling to make his way into the Pearl to save his family. There was a moment with the public watching on a large screen around that point, when he’s dangling of a huge crane and leaping 30 feet into buildings that had me cringing.
It felt like Ninja Warrior UK and I was almost waiting on commentary from Chris Kamara feeding through for the rest of the film, because man does Will Sawyer love dangling thousands of feet up in the air with a flimsy, DIY, safety line.
And that’s arguably my biggest gripe with Skyscraper. I can forgive the basic plot and the superfluous second arc of Zhao playing off Botha before Will steps in, that I didn’t care about in the slightest. Hell, I can even forgive the absence of anything resembling chemistry between Campbell and Johnson, and indeed any character development therein. But what I can’t forgive is lazy action set pieces, the over reliance of well trodden action tropes that have been done better in the likes of Towering Inferno and regurgitated dangling, used way too often for tension, to ever diminishing returns.
For god sakes, If you have little to no substance in the plot department then at least give us something fresh in the action department. They didn’t though.
You don’t even need me to write about what happens as the family reunite and Will tries to formulate an escape plan whilst dealing with the decent, if not stereotypical and slightly neutered antagonist that is Botha. That’s no dig at Roland Møller incidentally, he’s all right. But I’ll do it anyway, because frankly, I’m running out of other things to talk about. Will performs a series of a unlikely heroics, saves his wife and son, before teaming up with Zhao to see off Botha and save his daughter. I’ve slagged this film off slightly, but I did enjoy the ingenuity of the mirror scene at the end and the continual confusion the reflections created. Think Enter the Dragon and you’ll get a feel for what they did.
One thing I can’t find much fault in was the visuals. The CG had to be decent for this to be even remotely believable and it was. The wide shots of the fiery tower were quite impressive, I particularly enjoyed the street level stuff near the beginning and the nauseating cityscapes far below Will’s dangling moments were decently realistic.
In the end, Dwayne can always point to the Scorpion King and say this is like a Hitchcock masterpiece in comparison. It wasn’t a terrible film, I’ve definitely seen plenty worse, but it wasn’t great either. It was merely average and there was no great underlying or overarching themes explored, out with the usual heroic desire to save ones family that’s been done to the death. It felt like a missed opportunity, because if I hadn’t been aware of the usual Johnson action fare, then I could’ve been suckered with the trailer into believing this was a bold and different story, focusing on this idealistic, separatist community within the Pearl being isolated from the outside world by a tragedy. That could’ve been really interesting, but it’s a fantasy, sadly.
The acting was ok and nothing more, not even Dwayne, with all his aforementioned charisma and charm could lift the film out of the overpowering feel of averageness that permeated it’s very being. It’s a bit of escapism, a popcorn, action flick and if you try not to think too much about it then there’s some redeeming aspects that’ll give enjoyment to the right person.