The last time Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson needed to assault a building was way back in The Rundown, and it didn’t go so well for the building. Buildings evolve though. And in Skyscraper, a solidly constructed blockbuster popcorn muncher, writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber dreams up a vertiginous tower, the tallest in the world, reaching for the heavens from out of the glittering golden bay of Hong Kong, that offers The Rock quite the challenge.
Called “The Pearl”, this edifice is the brainchild of mogul Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han), who has brought on Johnson’s former FBI Hostage Rescue agent turned amputee (the result of a botched mission) security consultant Will Sawyer to assess the risks of the bleeding edge, self-sustained building – complete with its own vertical ecosphere – before its opened to the public. That grand opening gets derailed though when terrorists led by the ambiguously accented Kores Botha (Is he South African? Scandinavian? Doing an inferior impersonation of Sean Harris’ baddie from Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation?) infiltrate and set ablaze an entire floor halfway up the dizzying spire.
As a result, Sawyer’s wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and their two cute but forgettable kids, the only other occupants of the building beside Zhao holed up in his impenetrable penthouse who were just along for the trip, find themselves trapped in this conflagration. Now it’s up to Sawyer to save his family from a nightmare of fire, glass, and steel and in the process figure out just what these dastardly disposable crooks are actually up to. Spoiler alert: It’s not much.
If you were walking into this movie expecting an intricate, sweeping plot, you will find yourself sorely disappointed rather quickly. Thurber defenestrates any semblance of narrative or characterization in favour of explosive action set pieces that clomp back and forth across the line of improbability. Johnson though acts as the stable *cough* rock upon which this whole thing is built as he turns in a solemnly capable performance to anchor it all. Even with his action figure physique, there’s an air of sincere believability to his desperate family man, which really goes a long way to sell Skyscraper’s escapist antics.
And escapism this most definitely is. Daring physical feats, breathless skin-of-their-teeth escapes, and a plot that acts as nothing more than an excuse to see Johnson hero it up in the most extreme way are the order of the day here. Luckily, Thurber – helming his first non-comedy movie after drawing laughs with Dodgeball and Central Intelligence – proves himself rather capable of eliciting some gasp-worthy thrills, in particular an early bone-crunching tussle in an apartment in which Johnson proves that he can still kick ass even when he’s just on one leg.
That Skyscraper’s action stylings are as successfully thrilling as they are shouldn’t be too surprising though as Thurber steals greedily from the blueprints of previous genre greats, Die Hard being the most obvious inspiration with several elements of A Towering Inferno duct taped to it for good measure (because as Sawyer comments, “If you can’t fix it with duct tape, you’re not using enough duct tape!”). Thurber is clearly not trying to hide his plagiarism though, doling out, shall we say, homages with unfazed frequency. And while Will Sawyer is no John McClane (Kores Botha is definitely no Hans Gruber despite one heavy-handed parallel), Johnson, Campbell and co all make it work.
Well, work as good as these things can really. Skyscraper is not trying to be anything more than what is: a good ol’ dose of throwback skop, skiet en donner action machismo, often as dizzying in its action beats as its minimal plotting is derivative. The argument could be made that Thurber and friends play it a tad too seriously though, as everybody remains rather stern throughout despite the cartoonish levels of escalation on offer. I mean at one point, a baddie gets knocked from a high perch to fall into a rising wall of flame and Johnson simply refuses to peak an eyebrow and dryly mutter “You’re fired,” despite how much my inner 1980s action movie geek wanted him to.
The upside of not giving into these cheesy whims of levity is that the film keeps up its tension well enough to ensure that it’s a solid 100-minutes of The Rock-n-roll diversionary thrills. It’s no towering achievement for the genre by a long shot, but Skyscraper is definitely an attraction worth visiting.
Last Updated: July 13, 2018