Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Writers: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Møller, Pablo Schreiber
Synopsis: A father goes to great lengths to save his family from a burning skyscraper.
World’s tallest structure is aflame, is aflame, is aflame, but Dwayne Johnson’s here. While not (yet) a super-figure, the actor has displayed enough heroics — at least twice since 2015 — that currently active cape-wearers, mask-donners and relic-holders can start planning getaways without feeling guilty. Not long ago Johnson halted three colossi’s pancaking of Chicago using only friendship (overcome the other lumps in the footage and you’ll see), so extinguishing a towering inferno should be a sigh-and-done affair.
Unless there’s a change to his fitness, something that may neutralize the star’s commonly Instagram-ed beastliness. In Skyscraper, director/writer Rawson Marshall Thurber constructs his lead, Will Sawyer (Johnson), as an amputee after a botched hostage rescue. An image-breaking move that’s rather refreshing after witnessing Luke Hobbs’ abilities (Furious 7’s “Unplaster Flex”) and hearing only veiled praises tailored for Jumanji’s Smolder Bravestone or Rampage’s Davis Okoye. For once, Johnson’s inhabiting of a paragon of a role has little trace of spectacle, that beneath it all lies a person we can confide in and relate to. When away from the action, every sight of Will is an echo of Gridiron Gang’s Sean Porter, to this date the purest proof that Johnson can carry a film without the sciences of popcorn entertainment trailing his footsteps.
Ten years after that incident, Will replaces his FBI agent creds to that of a security consultant, says “I do” to the hospital personnel who saved him, army surgeon Sarah (Neve Campbell, always brimming with quiet strength) and has two reasons to bring the bacon home, daughter Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and son Henry (Noah Cottrell). At the moment, the Sawyers’ are residing in Hong Kong, on the 96th floor of a hi-tech high-rise called The Pearl whose owner, the composed billionaire Zhao (Chin Han, a somewhat-warmer version of his Dark Knight twin), has hired Will to assess its safety. Zhao is expecting results soon — the upper half of the 220-storey wonder is still closed — and seeing how he has “spared no expense” (hex phrase!) to erect the thing the rush is understandable.
Much like June’s Upgrade, Skyscraper moves with the belief that it will perish if not in seventh gear. Don’t beat yourself up if the film’s meatier elements go by unnoticed, including d.o.p. Robert Elswit’s definitely tentpole photography, James D. Bissell’s most-seductive architectural eye (the spherical and panoramical observation deck is rather jaw-dropping), Johnson’s effective drama fuse and even why the edifice is set on fire. Something about a clunky-looking USB, traceable money and forcing the good-hearted consultant to take the fall? It’s all secondary to, and seems to be constructed with less dedication than, Will’s arduous journey to reenter The Pearl to save his family. Hyper-avidity aside — consequences being some needless reaction shots, cramped set-pieces and jumbled showcases of CQC — Thurber impresses as the lead’s personalized “hurdle maker,” coming up with all sorts of challenges set inside and — gulp — outside The Pearl. Can you feel your temples crackling, or your tibia prickling, yet? And like construction tarps, the film uses those stemming-from-vertigo sensations to prevent the building’s roughness appear in full view.
But there’s one crack that goes uncovered, namely the shamelessly paper-thin villainy, with one individual — Xia (Hannah Quinlivan) — leaping straight out of Stereotype Weekly; the Umbrella haircut is a mark of edginess and technical specialist is her role in the group. As for the main baddie, international terrorist Kores Botha (Roland Møller), it’s a missed opportunity that Thurber finds nothing to add to him, not even a cosmetic layer when spiritually the film links with Die Hard. Still, in what might be regarded as wondrous compensation, the non-Will Sawyers are all tough and sharp-witted cookies; Harry and Georgia never lose their cool amidst the fire (the brother wisely directs his sister to higher ground!) and Sarah will put employers of the talk-local-so-the-foreigner-doesn’t-know trick to shame. A detail both minor and, on top of the momentum and bursts of creativity (that’s one handy leg!), crucial to the film’s ultimately winsome trait, despite making a first impression full of lethal parabolae and “I’d like you to meet John McClane.”
Remember to buckle the hell up when you go through The Pearl’s doors.
Overall Grade: B-
Podcast review coming soon!