REVIEW – ‘Skyscraper’

We’ve already had one ridiculous, over-the-top Dwayne Johnson action blockbuster this year. Despite the fact you’ve probably already completely forgotten about Rampage, it was only released three months ago. Did we really need another one so soon? Regardlesshere we are with Skyscraper, a film which takes its lead from the 1974 classic The Towering Inferno and cranks up the absurdity to new levels, even for a Johnson flick.

Ignoring the basic laws of physics, Skyscraper is the kind of nonsensical Hollywood blockbuster you could probably hate all over. It’s mindless action that barely makes any sense. But this is entirely what we expect from a film about people trapped in a giant tower on fire, so you really can’t complain. This movie knows what it is. You get exactly what you paid for. And, if you’re somehow able to switch off your brain and let the spectacle carry you away, it can be awfully fun.

There’s probably not much need for sharing the plot that’s crafted around the disaster element of the narrative. It’s ultimately rather superfluous to the film itself. But something has to get Johnson into that burning building, and writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber tries his utmost to find an acceptable path. Will Sawyer (Johnson) is a former FBI special-ops dude who lost half of one leg in a hostage rescue gone bad. 10 years later, and he’s now happily married to Sarah (a kickass Neve Campbell), the Navy surgeon who saved his life, and the doting father to two adorable young twins, Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell).

Leaving his tactical days behind, Will is now leading a simpler life as a high-tech security consultant who’s been hired by billionaire Hong Kong property developer Zhao Long (Chin Han) to access the safety systems of the Pearl, a gargantuan 220-story skyscraper that’s set to become the world’s tallest structure. Bringing his family along for the job, Sarah and the twins take residence in the tower’s yet-to-be-opened swanky residential section. Big mistake.

Disaster inevitably strikes when a team of terrorists, led by crime boss Kores Botha (Rolan Moller), start a huge fire on the 96th floor, forcing Zhao to flee to his titanium-enforced panic-room in the tower’s penthouse. The fire also leaves Will’s family stranded on the floors above the flames, with no way out. Outside the building, Kores’ partner Xia (Hannah Quinlivan) has taken control of the tower’s security system, shutting down the emergency sprinklers and locking the building’s exits. With emergency crews baffled as to what to do (strangely, not one person even tries to get inside the building to help), it’s up to Will to find a way in and save his family, all by himself.

Now, you may be wondering why exactly these criminals have set fire to a giant skyscraper, and there is a reason. But it’s so positively goofy and illogical, it’s truly not worth spoiling. This ground has been well-covered in the first Die Hard film and it seems inevitable this comparison will occur throughout every review you read. But Thurber attempts to raise the stakes higher in his take on the disaster/rescue genre. In Die Hard, John McClane had to rescue his wife from a tower taken over by terrorists. Here, Will faces the same predicament, with his kids (one of which has crippling asthma) and his boss thrown in too. Oh, and he has to do it all with just one full leg. And the building he’s rescuing them from is about 15 times taller than the one McLane had to scale. It’s basically Die Hard on steroids.

That may or may not be a good thing, depending on how you feel about films which cast aside any semblance of logic or realism, particularly when Will becomes a crafty MacGyver-type character, fashioning helpful implements from whatever is lying around him. One such scene involving a roll of duct tape, a heavy sculpture, some rope, and Will’s prosthetic leg is particularly ridiculous but you’ve just gotta go with it and enjoy the silliness. We’re working on the premise of Will being a particularly handy man to have around in an emergency (we know this because, early in the film, he fixes his wife’s phone by magically turning it off and on again…), so it’s just all part of the folly of Skyscraper.

It all ultimately works because you cannot escape the fact Johnson is a bonafide movie star. That’s not to be confused with a great actor. Sure, the man can deliver lines and emotions but it’s really just the same shallow, heroic role over and over again. Yet his charisma and charm are so terribly infectious, he’s always delivering a character you want to cheer for and can’t help but enjoy watching. That’s the mark of a true star. We know Will will ultimately succeed but you somehow never stop fearing for the worst. Despite his impressive physique, Johnson instils a sense of unease and panic in his character, conveying each outlandish situation as genuinely risky as it should be.

The film’s most delightful surprise is Campbell, who makes a welcome return to the big screen after years of absence. Sarah is a character who could easily have been nothing more than a damsel in distress. Thankfully, Thurber gives her far more to do than just sit and wait for rescue, allowing Campbell to bring out the best of her iconic gutsy character, Sidney Prescott from the Scream franchise. Sarah consistently takes charge of her own destiny, including a couple of wicked fight scenes, and Campbell gets to deliver a character with plenty of grit and determination, which is a rarity for females in these kinds of films. It’s a downright refreshing change and Campbell is perfectly cast here.

You come to Skyscraper to see a hefty dose of ridiculous stunts, and Thurber doesn’t let you down. If you’ve seen the trailers, you know the insane way Will initially enters the building involves a construction crane and a running leap that defies the laws of gravity, physics, and just good common sense. It’s just one of numerous bombastic set pieces that consistently meet their goal of sheer popcorn entertainment. It’s got all the daredevil feats you could want. Johnson perilously dangles from every inch of the tower, leaving him constantly one fingernail away from death. There are explosions and gunfights and all sorts of calamity, leading to a finale that’s both ludicrously dumb and deliciously thrilling, all at the same time.

But Skyscraper is ultimately let down by its impermissible plot holes and lapses of focus. The film seems to both play on and completely forget Will’s missing limb, depending on what’s required of our hero in each scene. Early in the piece, he has minor difficulty walking down a set of stairs inside his apartment. Yet, later on, he has little issue climbing 100 stories up a crane before making a full sprint to launch into his death-defying leap across to the Pearl. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Crisis-induced adrenaline can work wonders, but even that’s a stretch.

The supporting cast of characters surrounding Johnson and Campbell are all fairly terribly written. Moller and Quinlivan’s villains are rather cartoonish and one-dimensional, as is Noah Taylor’s brief appearance as Mr. Pierce, Zhao’s devious business associate whose intentions are clear from the moment he walks into the room. The film seems desperate to please Asian audiences with its Hong Kong setting (even though the production actually took place in Vancouver) and abundance of Asian characters, but they’re all terrible stereotypes who offer nothing to the film. That being said, you’re not really here for a character piece, so it’s not entirely shocking.

At the end of the day, Johnson typically gives it his absolute all, making it hard to walk out of the cinema feeling dissatisfied. With Skyscraper, you’re given everything you came for. Thrills and spills and everything in between. The film hits full-speed early on and barely stops to take a breath. Action-packed may be a well-worn cliché but there’s no better way to describe this nonsense. It’s easily one of the silliest movies you’ll see this year but maybe that’s perfectly okay. This kind of cheese has a place in the world of cinema. Why bother being mad about that?

★★1/2☆☆☆
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Moller, Noah Taylor, Byron Mann, Pablo Schreiber, Hannah Quinlivan
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Screenplay: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Producers: Beau Flynn, Dwayne Johnson, Rawson Marshall Thurber, Hiram Garcia
Cinematography: Robert Elswit
Production Design: Jim Bissell
Music: Steve Jablonsky
Editors: Mike Sale, Julian Clarke
Running Time: 102 minutes
Release Date: 12th July 2018 (Australia)

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