Skyscraper is a serviceable action vehicle for a charming Dwayne Johnson, but even he can’t save it from repetitive set pieces and a stale story.
Skyscraper is the fifth directorial effort from Rawson Marshall Thurber, who kicked off his career behind the camera with the Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller sports comedy DodgeBall: An Underdog Story. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Skyscraper marks the second occasion the actor and director have worked together, with the first being 2016's Central Intelligence. That film paired Johnson up with comedian Kevin Hart, before the duo went on to star in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle together. Now, the ever-busy Johnson re-teams with the Central Intelligence filmmaker on a solo actioner that was written and directed by Thurber. Skyscraper is a serviceable action vehicle for a charming Dwayne Johnson, but even he can’t save it from repetitive set pieces and a stale story.
Johnson stars in Skyscraper as Will Sawyer, a former FBI Hostage Rescue Team Leader and army veteran. Ten years prior to the main events of the film, Will leads his team on a rescue mission, but it goes sideways and he's severely hurt. The resulting injury leads to Will having one leg amputated, and he meets his future wife, Sarah (Neve Campbell), while in the hospital. In the current day, Will, Sarah and their children - Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell) - are visiting the tallest skyscraper in the world, The Pearl in Hong Kong, as Will conducts a safety assessment for the building's visionary, Zhao Min Zhi (Chin Han). Will was recommended for the job by his close friend and former FBI Hostage Rescue teammate (Pablo Schreiber), who also bears scars from the mission gone wrong.
However, while conducting a part of his security assessment of The Pearl that takes place offsite, something goes wrong in the skyscraper itself and Will returns to find it ablaze. Although the building has security measures in place to keep the fire contained, there's an issue that causes the fire to spread, and Will's family is just a few floors above the danger when it begins. To make matters more difficult, Will is being framed for the fire blazing in The Pearl and he must dodge the Hong Kong police if he wants to get to his family and get them to safety. As a result, Will must contend with a number of obstacles if he's going to get into The Pearl, find his family above the fire line, and save them from the burning building - and it's unclear if he'll be able to do it.
The concept of Skyscraper is interesting enough, setting this action thriller in the tallest building in the world - one that has everything its residents could possibly need from a park and health center to a movie theater and shopping mall. And, throwing a wrench in what's essentially meant to be a modern wonder of technology is a compelling enough premise to explore in a film. However, Skyscraper never really capitalizes on the premise of something wrong in a building that's meant to exist as its own society removed from the rest of the world. The security assessment Will conducts for Zhao Min Zhi is for the insurance company, and the building must be insured before anyone can move into the residential section of The Pearl. So, Will and his family are the first to actually live in The Pearl, but that also means they're the only ones in danger when The Pearl catches fire. The resulting movie puts a focus on Will and his family, but Skyscraper sacrifices a great deal of potential (in terms of exploring its concept) for a routine action premise.
Further, the story of Will and his family largely feels like the loose connective thread tying Skyscraper's action sequences together. Unfortunately, the action set pieces aren't particularly innovative. Certainly, Skyscraper plays with the tension of Will attempting death-defying feats thousands of feet in the air, and it works in certain scenes, as audiences hold their breath to see if he'll be able to survive. However, that tension wears thin as the movie goes on, so that the threat of Will falling to his death becomes dimmer and dimmer as he manages to save himself just in the nick of time, again and again. Undoubtedly, Skyscraper needed to strike a balance of set pieces that focused on the threat of the building's height and the fire blazing inside, and the movie's final fight sequence does feature something different. However, because the last big action set piece doesn't capitalize on the building's height at all, it's like even the movie gets tired of hanging Will and his family high above the ground or above the fire to make a scene thrilling. The balance and organization of action set pieces in Skyscraper leaves something to be desired, especially when looking at how much potential there was in the concept of The Pearl being its own, separate society.
But, though Skyscraper seemingly chooses to focus on its hero and his family to the detriment of exploring The Pearl as a fully realized setting, Will's arc is ultimately thin as well. It's a story premise we've seen in action films for decades: the hero's family is put in danger and he'll do whatever he can to save them. Like The Pearl, there's plenty of potential for Skyscraper to mine for true drama, like Will being an amputee and his aversion to guns after the hostage rescue situation gone wrong. However, after being established, Will's prosthetic leg is only ever revisited when it can make for a more thrilling action scene, or in the case of Will's aversion to guns, it's vaguely alluded to briefly in certain moments, but not enough to have any kind of impact. Instead, Skyscraper focuses on the tried-and-true theme of the genre, a hero going to extreme lengths to save his family - though their characters aren't particularly well developed, so this arc doesn't have the weight it deserves, either.
Like many other Dwayne Johnson vehicles, Skyscraper does successfully showcase the star's charm as he brings some levity to the film. The balance of when these moments arrive and the jokes Will cracks doesn't quite work, though, causing the scenes to come off like cheap imitations of classic one-liners from other, similar action movies (specifically, Die Hard). Still, Johnson has enough charm and charisma to make them work as well as he can. His performance is enjoyable enough as he shifts from earnest family man to wise-cracking action hero, even if the story and the script don't offer much in the way of a compelling arc. It's a fairly typical role for Johnson, and he offers a solid performance that is neither out-of-the-box nor revolutionary.
Skyscraper had the potential to be a fresh and fun summer blockbuster, with Johnson bringing his charm to help set it apart from similar action/thrillers, but the movie ultimately falls short. The action set pieces never truly capitalize on the potential of Skyscraper's unique setting, and instead become repetitive as the film goes on. Further, since the emotional core of the movie is underdeveloped, there's very little weight to the action, which highlights the mindlessness of those set pieces. As a result, Skyscraper might be fun summer popcorn fare for Johnson's die-hard fans (no pun intended), but it doesn't offer much beyond that.
Skyscraper is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It runs 109 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sequences of gun violence and action, and for brief strong language.
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- Skyscraper (2018) release date: Jul 13, 2018