Film Review – Skyscraper
Duct tape plays a prominent role throughout Skyscraper (2018). When Dwayne Johnson’s character suffers a brutal gash from shrapnel, he closes the wound off by wrapping it in tape. When he has to scale the side of a three thousand foot tall building, he wraps his hands and feet in tape so he can stick to the glass surface, ala Spider-Man. At one point, Johnson utters the phrase “If you can’t fix something with duct tape, then you’re not using enough duct tape.”
I’m not sure all the tape in the world could elevate Skyscraper from being more than a generic, mundane action picture. Writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber doesn’t shy from copying other, well-known properties like The Towering Inferno (1974) and to a larger degree, Die Hard (1988). Promo posters recently circulated the Internet that repurposed the imagery of those films with Johnson’s face substituted in. In the movie business, there’s an often-used practice where a popular idea will be redone but changed slightly to have its own identity. Speed (1994) was “Die Hard On A Bus” or Olympus Has Fallen (2013) was “Die Hard At The White House.” Now it seems we’ve gone full circle with this production simply doing…Die Hard.
Johnson stars as Will Sawyer, a war veteran and former FBI special ops agent. After a deadly tragedy left him with a prosthetic leg, Will changed careers, becoming a promising security analyst. His latest project is The Pearl, a gigantic skyscraper in Hong Kong recently minted as the tallest – and safest – building in the world. Consisting of a shopping center, its own nature park/conservation area, and living quarters, The Pearl has all the bells and whistles for anyone to live comfortably in. The man behind The Pearl’s design and construction (Chin Han) wants Will to provide his analysis to make sure every floor meets safety standards before opening the upper levels to residents.
Unfortunately, things take a turn when a team of highly trained bad guys (including Roland Moller and Hannah Quinlivan) infiltrate The Pearl, breach the security system, and ignite a fire that quickly consumes the upper half of the building. To make matters even more complicated, Will’s wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and two kids (McKenna Roberts/Noah Cottrell) are trapped inside, stuck between the rapidly increasing flames and the gun-toting terrorists. It’s up to Will to make his way into The Pearl to stop the destruction and save his family.
Skyscraper might work for those who don’t care about story comprehension, character development, or just all around common sense. Ignore the fact that the motivation for the terrorists is a convoluted web of money laundering (can’t villains just steal cash or gold nowadays?). Let’s forget that the Chinese authorities uncover the diabolical plot by basically using a movie-version of Google Search. One of the most boring things to see on the big screen is people looking at monitors. This has people looking at monitors for nearly the entire runtime. The narrative seems to be in such a hurry to get to the action that it fails to build these characters into interesting, dynamic personalities. Johnson is once again cast to be himself, but his role doesn’t give him much to work with beyond that. Just because he has a fake leg doesn’t make him any more fascinating. In fact, the movie treats the leg as a means for physical comedy, as Will uses it to block doors from closing, or to dangle from perilous heights.
I found myself laughing through some of the more ridiculous scenes. One of the major set pieces has Johnson jumping from an elevated crane into The Pearl. The use of CGI effects – along with the sight Johnson’s muscular body performing a stunt that is not physically possible for a man of his size – comes off as hilariously absurd. It’s like watching a Cirque du Soleil performance done by someone with the physique of a bodybuilder. Another instance has Will literally holding a bridge together with his bare hands, allowing others to walk across it before it crumbles. Who knew being a security analyst could give you the strength of Hercules?
Skyscraper is slightly better than Dwayne Johnson’s previous outing in Rampage (2018) – released a mere three months ago – but not by much. Outside of the unintentional laughs it doesn’t earn much genuine excitement. Everything moves accordingly to plan with little to no surprises. The further Johnson’s career has gone, the more we see the balancing act between the badass aura he exudes and the family-centric audience he tries to cater to. What made his WWE persona, “The Rock” work was that he didn’t care what anyone thought of him. One of his biggest catch phrases was “It doesn’t matter what you think!” But as a movie star, his track record clearly shows him trying to appease everyone. Because of his insistence to be likeable to every member of the household, Johnson has never reached his defining role. He has all the talent to carry his own successful franchise, I just hope he does it soon.