Movie Review: Skyscraper
Dwayne Johnson holds everything together by one hand in a predictable popcorn pleaser that turns Titanic on its side and accidentally stumbles into political metaphor. Yet, for all the non-stop action, the movie placed third in its opening weekend.
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell
Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Running time: 1 hr 42 minutes
By Katherine Monk
It’s not too soon, apparently. The sight of a massive tower on fire still stirs the embers of 9/11 and ignites a thoughtful flame for the Grenfell Tower tragedy, but it’s the nostalgic spark of Irwin Allen’s Towering Inferno that gives Skyscraper its friendly glow.
A big-budget disaster movie shot in Vancouver, but set in Hong Kong, Skyscraper is exactly what you think it is just by looking at the poster: Dwayne Johnson hanging from vertiginous heights by one hand. What you may not know: He only has one leg.
Will Sawyer (Johnson) was an FBI agent who nearly died in a hostage rescue attempt, but decided to “lay down his sword” when he came through his ordeal alive. Now working as a security consultant, Will flies to Hong Kong with his wife (Neve Campbell) and twins (McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell) to inspect the world’s tallest building. Conceived by software billionaire Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han), The Pearl is three times the height of the Empire State building and completely self-sufficient, boasting a wind turbine and 30-story vertical park to give it a negative carbon footprint.
A big-budget disaster movie shot in Vancouver, but set in Hong Kong, Skyscraper is exactly what you think it is just by looking at the poster…
All Will has to do is give The Pearl’s security systems his independent seal of approval for the insurance underwriters, and the building can be fully occupied. To do so, Will is given the virtual keys to the building: a tablet that controls every vent and knob within the giant erection.
No sooner does he wrap his mitts around it than a woman in a tight leather suit appears, slashing Will’s arm and stealing his bag. She’s got lipstick on. She means business.
Meanwhile, masked men with machine guns empty chlorine barrels all over one of the middle floors — just below Will’s family — and light a flare. The fire suppression system kicks in, but the sprinklers create an inferno when they hit the chlorine. Ji refuses to leave his penthouse atop the Pearl, believing the fire will be contained. Yet, that femme fatale with the rouge à lèvres and her cohorts might just have the keys, and with the touch of a button, they open the vents and turn the Pearl into a billion-dollar chimney.
Though it’s all fiction, and largely silly, everything in Rawson Marshall Thurber’s script is tenable. From the actual design and shape of the rising serpent, to the idea of using duct tape to stick to the side of a building, feels plausible. Combined with seamless special effects that never fully eclipse the players, Skyscraper balances the need for believable danger with a believable plot, allowing us to suspend disbelief for the duration.
Though it’s all fiction, and largely silly, everything in Rawson Marshall Thurber’s script is tenable. From the actual design and shape of the rising serpent, to the idea of using duct tape to stick to the side of a building, feels plausible.
Holding us up there, by one hand, is Dwayne Johnson. Now at the pinnacle of the business, he flexes his action muscles with ease, working each fight scene with precision and confidence. He and Thurber made Central Intelligence together, so they also pepper the plot with some perfect Rock deadpan. Yet what makes Skyscraper somewhat unique is Johnson’s feat of chemistry with Neve Campbell.
The two of them make a sweet, grown-up screen couple — where the connection comes from the old coals of shared experience. The mutual respect is palpable, and probably quite real, which is why Skyscraper checks every box on both sides of the action and drama ledger.
It’s a fully realized professional effort from everyone involved, from the actors and writers to the techs in post. No one slacked off. They delivered the Die Hard meets Towering Inferno they set out to make, and it’s a full summer pleaser that nods to everything from Bruce Lee to James Bond.
The Titanic side of it — the Pearl’s architectural ambition and scale — is where you could jump off and go deeper. There’s an early mention of Babel, and endless social implications in the idea of a vertical city (for more on that see High Rise), but Skyscraper doesn’t beg for a deep analysis. It doesn’t even give you time to really think.
There’s an early mention of Babel, and endless social implications in the idea of a vertical city (for more on that see High Rise), but Skyscraper doesn’t beg for a deep analysis. It doesn’t even give you time to really think.
Dwayne Johnson is either trying to get in, hang off, or escape from a burning mega-structure. Right now, it’s just the Poseidon Adventure on its side, with the Rock anchoring every scene. Should he decide to run for President, we can start deconstructing the metaphor of a powerful and morally suspect man who lives in the penthouse of his own tower engulfed in flames, and the Rock’s ability to save the surviving souls.
Main Photo: Neve Campbell and Dwayne Johnson play a married couple in Skyscraper. Credit: Kimberley French, Courtesy of Universal Studios.
THE EX-PRESS, July 17, 2018