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When the first footage from Skyscraper was launched earlier this year, most online conversation revolved around the staggering incredulity of the trailer’s money shot: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson making an Ethan Hunt-esque leap from a crane into the broken window of a building. Everyone from math professors to meme makers critiqued the physics, and even Johnson snappily responded on Twitter. But for me, the most unlikely element was the inclusion of Johnson himself. How on earth does the wrestler-turned-actor find the time to headline so many damn movies? Does he sleep? Has he undergone a Multiplicity-like experimental cloning procedure?
Because in the last seven months he managed to game a winning $962m worldwide from a belated Jumanji sequel and turn the arcade adaptation Rampage into a stampeding $424m global smash (not to mention that a fourth season of his hit HBO show Ballers starts next month). He’s easily the most bankable star working in Hollywood today, as well as one of the most likable, but can his star power extend to three box office hits in such a short period of time?
Reuniting with the director Rawson Marshall Thurber, who used his star’s charisma to enliven the mediocre action comedy Central Intelligence, Johnson plays a former FBI hostage rescue team leader, war veteran and skyscraper security assessor(!!!), Will Sawyer. He’s working in China on the Pearl, the tallest and safest building in Hong Kong, while also living there with wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and two kids. But, when a fire starts, Sawyer finds himself framed by terrorists and, yeah, you can probably guess where this is going.
Early tracking has suggested that Skyscraper will become the year’s biggest original hit, given that it’s a rare film with a $100m-plus budget that isn’t a sequel, a reboot, a remake or based on a TV show, a comic, a video game, a tweet or a discarded piece of food. Even Johnson himself sub-tweeted this, selling it as some sort of scrappy underdog. But using the word original in the same sentence as Skyscraper feels ill-fitting, given that it’s such a shameless regurgitation of so many other films. Even Universal has referenced this in the marketing, with posters mimicking both Die Hard and The Towering Inferno.
Right from the opening scene, we’re locked into familiar, box-ticking territory. The film kicks off with our hero experiencing some standard character-building trauma (as seen in Cliffhanger, Hostage, Along Came a Spider, etc), though in a somewhat unique touch it leaves our hero without a leg. While it’s a far cry from actual representation for amputees on-screen (Johnson is able-bodied, after all), it’s a small step in the right direction.
Elsewhere, the script fails to make any real inroads towards that much-touted originality. Every detail in the first act is a clumsily dropped breadcrumb to be used later on: a joke about Campbell’s character being terrible with technology, a kid’s asthma, a hi-tech tourist attraction high in the building … it’s all screenwriting 101.
While his heroic physique is hard to downplay, Johnson does a solid job in the initial scenes of convincing us that he’s not the day-saver we would expect. He’s nervous, vulnerable and, when he’s initially thrown into action, unsure on his feet. But this is soon forgotten and the shift to all-out action figure stunting is all too sudden, Sawyer’s anxiety fading instantly despite being faced with a series of genuinely impossible missions.
Which brings us to the much-memed crane jump. It’s as silly as one would expect but it’s also an undeniably giddy pleasure and, coupled with another heart-pumping, vertigo-inducing action sequence, this is where the film works best. Logic and anything resembling real-world physics are not elements one should expect but there’s a tonal awareness during these set pieces that suggests the film-makers don’t care, with the film rarely being presented as anything but escapism.
Yet there’s a lack of snappy one-liners, the kind that usually steer a film like this into some sort of trash classic territory, and we’re stuck with a lumbering, substandard Euro-villain devoid of Alan Rickman’s flair in Die Hard (he’s stuck with dim-witted lines such as “Clever boys like you always think they can be clever”) and an insanely convoluted motivation that I couldn’t explain to you if my family were also being held at gunpoint.
Set in China (yet filmed in Vancouver), with a sizable Asian cast, on paper Skyscraper seems to be one of the rare western blockbusters to actually use its location and actors as integral elements, unlike so many other big-budget films that have crowbarred them in to make a quick buck overseas. But appearances can be deceiving because, as the film rattles toward its finale, the Asian characters don’t really have much of an impact on the plot, and the heroics in the final act are left entirely to the westerners.
At one point Johnson’s character remarks, “This is stupid,” a line that led to knowing laughter from the audience. This is stupid but it’s also mostly entertaining, thanks to Johnson and a plot that moves fast enough to retain our attention yet without enough, ahem, the originality to ensure it lingers in our minds once the fire has been extinguished.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Skyscraper review – The Rock towers over an inferno of cliches | Film