Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Pablo Schreiber, Roland Møller, McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell, Noah Taylor
Another year, another movie featuring Dwayne Johnson throwing himself around and being the action hero his former self may never have dreamed of. The Rock has come a long way since he last asked us if we could smell what he was cooking. As much as he has a magnetic personality and receives generally favourable reviews for his performances, the films in which he takes the lead overall tend to be average at best. Does Skyscraper finally give him that leap into the land of successful blockbusters, or has he taken a chance on something that’s destined to fall flat on its face?
Once again playing the parental role (Journey 2, San Andreas), Johnson is Will Sawyer, a married father-of-two and former FBI agent. After losing a lower leg in a failed rescue operation, Will takes up the job of head of security in a new multi-billion dollar building in Hong Kong known as The Pearl, the tallest building ever built. Supposedly impenetrable and perfectly safe, the Sawyer family are the only current occupants of the 96th floor. As Will takes care of some business away from the building, it comes under a terror attack whilst his family are inside. Will has to find a way to save his family, all the while battling the terrorists and the authorities that assume he is involved with the attack.
Sounds relatively exciting, right? Wrong. The plot itself leaves a lot to be desired. Writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s screenplay is loose and unoriginal and relies heavily on Johnson’s box office draw and abilities as an actor (which have improved over time in his career), stunts and special effects. The latter two, however, are not visually pleasing enough to keep an audience interested. The trailer itself contains any and all exciting bits, meaning you might be better off sticking to that and imagining something amazing rather than being let down by the real deal. The familial aspects of the film verge on sickly sweet: “Daddy loves who?”, Will continually asks of his children. Wife Sarah (Campbell) is a strong enough woman but her lack of shock and fear for her children’s safety suggests either a weakly written character or that the character’s history as a combat medic kicks in her survival instincts; it’s hard to distinguish which way she swings in that respect. You will root for the family, as you would any characters in that situation, but you may not really care about them the way you ought to.
Many of the movie’s struggles might be to do with Robert Elswit’s cinematography (which is a shame, for he of There Will Be Blood, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Inherent Vice and Nightcrawler) and Marshall Thurber’s direction: the amount of times Will finds himself miles up on a ledge would be enough to leave a viewer feeling nauseous, however the angles don’t come across as particularly petrifying. That, and being Dwayne Johnson, we know he will be just fine (the negative aspect of having Johnson as your big starring name: he will always be fine). The scrapes the family find themselves in on their perilous adventure lack originality and are often drawn out to the point where you’ll wish they’d just skip to the predictable end. It’s also difficult at times to understand precisely which part of the building they are in – when Will first learns about the building we are given an insight into the levels and architecture, but there’s still an air of confusion as he and his family traverse the building.
Johnson is indeed the film’s saving grace. He is endearing, committed and resolute in his role as Will. Between the trailer and Johnson’s involvement, Skyscraper will likely find its audience at first, but word of mouth will probably kill audience numbers within a matter of weeks. As wonderful as Johnson is, he’s not enough to incite sturdy recommendations. Neve Campbell provides an average performance, but that’s likely down to the character, as previously mentioned, rather than Campbell’s talents as an actress. Her chemistry with Johnson is good enough and they make for a charming couple, but there was still room for more – we see briefly how they met but then nothing after that until they are in The Pearl – it might have given the audience something more to invest in had we been given more background (with a running time of 110 minutes they could easily have spared five or ten minutes for some pre-parental-duty character/relationship development). The kid-actors themselves, Roberts and Cottrell, seem to want to pull off good performances but again are let down by their dialogue and storylines. The villains too are rather forgettable, lost amongst the desperate action and corny dialogue. The real star of the film is Duct Tape. The whole film might as well have been a promotional feature for the stuff (“If you can’t fix it with Duct Tape, you ain’t using enough Duct Tape.” – Trademark Dwayne Johnson/Will Sawyer, 2018).
Ultimately, Skyscraper is disappointing. The synopsis and even the trailer pointed toward greater potential with the idea but was let down by its overall execution. Also knowing how much thought and effort went into the design and CGI creation of The Pearl makes it all the more disappointing. It’s clear to see what Marshall Thurber was hoping for, but unfortunately it just didn’t turn out how it should have. The script could have used another couple of drafts, as could the screenplay as a whole, and with it currently being hailed as a lesser Die Hard, more research could have gone into previous films with stories and genres in a similar vein (trapped in a building, terrorists, big action star lead). The ending was left wide open for a sequel, with the building’s creator (within the film) announcing that they will rebuild, and it would be unsurprising if a sequel was to go ahead, pretty much because weirder things have happened (and worse films have had sequels). It’ll be interesting to see how it now fares, critically speaking, and how it performs commercially and financially. If they do manage to rebuild, let’s hope it’s from the ground up and with many lessons learnt.