Dwayne Johnson’s career reaches new heights in his latest popcorn-munching movie. Literally so, for Skyscraper dumps the insanely charismatic star hundreds of miles above terra firma for a disaster epic that recalls The Towering Inferno, Die Hard and Mission Impossible. Eat your heart out Ethan, Johnson does everything you can do with only one leg.
By the rule of Taken, never get between a retired agent and his family – or dog, in the case of John Wick. This is a cinematic law that has guided viewers through many an action film and continues to do so in Skyscraper. Perhaps the bad uns – led by Rolland Møller’s Euro-terrorist Kores Botha – would have gotten away with their scheme to destroy the tallest building in the world had they been a touch more careful to keep the wife and children of Will Sawyer (Johnson) far, far away.
The past couple of years have seen Johnson play a Polynesian demigod, a Diplomatic Security Service agent, lifeguard, video game avatar and primatologist in an astonishingly lucrative succession of high-budget blockbusters. Skyscraper tops them all. Here, Johnson plays – wait for it – a skyscraper safety and security assessor. Not since the Titanic hired a guy to watch out for looming icebergs in the Atlantic has a job pitted its employee in so ripe a position for excrement to hit the fan. It takes less than half an hour for Rawson Marshall Thurber’s film to play all its cards, most of which are jokers. ‘This is stupid’ as Sawyer himself splutters in the final act.
We first meet Sawyer as the victim of a botched FBI operation. The burden of guilt he wears from the incident is heavy but balanced by the lost weight of his leg; his prosthetic replacement is both a wretched reminder and helpful weapon as the film progresses. Though, at almost two meters tall and the same wide, Sawyer is among the world’s least likely everymen, he’s living the American dream. Earnest brawn is Johnson’s speciality and is here aided by his emotional investment: ‘I don’t know who I’d be without my family’ he says. Will’s new job has dragged the Sawyers – including Scream’s Neve Campbell as a more than perfunctory Sarah – over to Hong Kong to sign off on the Pearl, a glass and titanium super-structure, three times the height of the Empire State. If that’s not a metaphor for the shifting economic balance of the world, the need for an American to save the day speaks volumes.
Nonsensical story aside, Skyscraper boasts a rousing score, impressive visuals and sterling work from cinematographer Robert Elswit. The Pearl itself is a gorgeous construct, sleek, futuristic and entirely believable, whilst one majestic digital panorama envelops it. The film’s money shot – and undoubted highlight – is the sequence in which Johnson escapes a Hong Kong SWAT team to scale a giant crane, monkey bar his way to its end and launch himself from it into the burning skyscraper itself. If nothing else in the film ever quite meets this thrill, it is not the fault of the effects, nor – of course – a thoroughly gung ho Johnson. Not only the film’s star, Johnson’s role as producer places him right in the heart of the sandpit and he clearly, infectiously, loves it.
A riotously undemanding plot is not the only fault of the film. With dialogue this corny, secondary characters this fickle and directorial staging this cluttered, Skyscraper does struggle with basic audience expectations. Providing, that is, that one enters with any.
Those who don’t have fun with the film, however, are probably not its target. Leave your critical eye on the ground floor and you’ll be paralytic by the 300th.