It is summertime, which means that action movies are the norm. Along comes Skyscraper, a film meant to showcase Dwayne Johnson as the ultimate, if reluctant, action hero. While the picture does a nice job portraying his family life, its shopworn action sequences and plot improbabilities torpedo this enterprise.
The story begins ten years ago with a hostage siege in Ash Lake, Minnesota. For some reason, there is an FBI team there. Agent Will Sawyer (Johnson) and his team break into the building when the perp detonates a suicide vest. Despite being at point-blank range, Will survives with facial lacerations and burns (which completely heal with no scarring) and the loss of his left leg below the knee. In the hospital, a surgeon comforts him and says that he will be OK.
Flash forward to the present. Will is now married to his surgeon, Sarah (Neve Campbell), who speaks Asian languages and served three tours in Afghanistan. They have two adorable twins, Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell). The family is in Hong Kong, where Will has been invited to assess the safety systems for the Pearl, the world’s tallest skyscraper ever built, for billionaire Zhao Jong Li (Chin Han). The Pearl’s upper floors are unoccupied as yet, except for Will’s family, of course.
Although Will runs a small business out of his garage, he has been recruited by old FBI pal, Ben (Pablo Schreiber), who now works security for the Pearl. Ben gives tickets to an evening feeding of pandas to Will’s family.
Will is taken up to the Pearl itself. This eventually will be a tourist attraction. It can be converted into a high-tech mirror maze. It also can be set up so that you appear to be suspended in mid-air.
After Will completes his assessment of the Pearl proper, he is told that he needs to go to another building that is the brains of the Pearl and examine it as well. He is given a tablet that is keyed to his facial recognition to gain access to the systems there. On the way, he is stabbed and his bag stolen. When Ben discovers that the tablet was not stolen, the jig is up since he is in on the caper and tries to kill Will, who escapes.
Meanwhile, Henry has become ill and so the other 3 family members return to the Pearl. They meet men who seem to be performing some maintenance. Then a fire starts and they all are trapped (which they wouldn’t have been if they had stayed for panda feeding as Ben intended), and now must try to get out alive, pursued both by the conflagration and by the evil villains who started the fire.
Will Will be able to save his family? What incredible feats must he complete to do this? Who are these villains and why are they burning up this building?
I have to compliment the production design team for their creation of the Pearl. It is truly a wonderful design, especially the apex of the building which contains the spherical Pearl and a spire above it. The scenes before the fire show thoughtful interior design. There is a vertical park in the building which is a wonder as well.
It also is nice to see a normal family that actually cares about each other. The chemistry between Will and Sarah is real. The parents encourage their children to be confident without making them brats. The communication between parents and children rings true as well. I always appreciate when children are not precocious and smarter than their parents.
One of the failures of the film are the many improbabilities that occur. The remote building that controls the Pearl has less security than a convenience store so is easily overpowered. A criminal just bores a hole into the 5th floor sub-basement inside the Pearl and gains access.
The reason why the building is being burned could not be more convoluted. It also is highly improbable that any billionaire owner would not know how the game is played when dealing with the local criminals.
This movie also suffers from the “they’re perfect until they’re not” syndrome. The criminals flawlessly pull off their caper until they don’t. It is a mistake to show them as near-invincible and then have them suddenly become incompetent.
Dwayne Johnson’s stunts and those of other stuntmen are just variations on a theme. We have seen these types of maneuvers in other movies and so this becomes routine. In fact, the film constantly shows crowd reaction shots to Will’s antics in case you don’t know as an audience member how you are supposed to react.
There also is a ridiculous sub-plot about the local police pursuing Will because they think that he caused the fire. The police are just background noise to Will’s superior efforts at fighting villains.
I genuinely like Dwayne Johnson as an actor. He unfortunately ends up being typecast, and maybe partly through his own doing, as an action hero. I would love to see him in something that allowed him to stretch his acting chops, such as in the family scenes of this film.
Full disclosure: I was a “Party of Five” devotee during its initial broadcast. That being said, Neve Campbell gives a well-rounded, genuine performance as Sarah. In general, it is not the acting that is the problem with the film. There are some good one-liners.
When I heard that this film was called “Skyscraper,” I immediately thought of the 1974 Oscar best-picture nominee, “The Towering Inferno.” But things have changed since that time. The images of people jumping to their deaths from the World Trade Center and the tragedy of Grenfell Tower in the U.K. have made fact more horrifying than fiction.
In this case, the filmmakers chose to make all of the floors in peril unoccupied except for Will’s family and for the billionaire, his cohorts, and the villains up on the top floor. We see the lower levels being completely evacuated. I think that this was a wise, if noticeable, decision on their part.
So is the film enjoyable? It has its moments, but the overall effect is that we have seen this before. There is no reason to pay full-price to see this in a theater.
Rating: 2 stars
Dwayne Johnson leads the cast of Legendary’s Skyscraper as former FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader and U.S. war veteran Will Sawyer, who now assesses security for skyscrapers. On assignment in China he finds the tallest, safest building in the world suddenly ablaze, and he’s been framed for it. A wanted man on the run, Will must find those responsible, clear his name and somehow rescue his family who is trapped inside the building…above the fire line.
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Noah Taylor, Roland Møller, Byron Mann, Pablo Schreiber, Hannah Quinlivan
Written and Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber