Movie Review: The Rock Bolsters Well-Built 'Skyscraper'
Die Hard meets The Towering Inferno in Skyscraper, a preposterous - but preposterously fun - action spectacle starring Dwayne Johnson as a security expert who must save his family when the world’s tallest building goes up in flames.
Johnson stars as Will Sawyer, an ex-FBI agent and current skyscraper security engineer who lands a prime gig assessing the integrity of The Pearl, a Hong Kong skyscraper that dwarfs the Burj Khalifa and is three times the size of the Empire State Building.
But before Will - who, apparently, has the authority to sign off on the security of the world’s tallest building all by himself - can give the final thumbs up, armed baddies led by Kores Botha (Danish actor Roland Møller) tunnel into the basement, set the 96th floor on fire, and hack into the security mainframe to disable all safety protocol.
What is their plan? Too implausible for early-movie exposition, it’s saved for a third act reveal. By that time, it seems downright reasonable contrasted with the over-the-top action movie spectacle that surrounds it.
But it’s bad news for Will: not only does this pose a threat to his skyscraper assessment, but his wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and two children just happen to be residing on the 98th floor. They’re the only residents in the entire building save for tough-luck developer Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han) and a small security detail in a top-floor penthouse suite.
As the internal security measures fail and the building goes up in flames, you might imagine a firefighter or two be dispersed to put out the blaze.
Not so: as thousands of onlookers gather around the skyscraper and wait for it to come crashing down on top of them, it’s up to Will, and Will alone, to save his family. And if he can stop the blaze, save tens of thousands of other lives and spare Hong kong from a 9/11-like tragedy, well, that’ll just be great, too.
But first, Will has to get inside of the blazing inferno. Posters and trailers for the film highlight a leap of impossible trajectory that Johnson’s character must attempt to get in the building above the fire, and I’m happy to report that it looks just as ridiculous in the final feature as it does in the promotional material. Only explanation: Will has somehow been carried through the air in an updraft.
And this is merely the first ridiculous stunt attempted during the movie. Later on, Will must use duct tape to scale the outer walls of the building a la Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol before leaping into the middle of a giant turbine like Crash Bandicoot. He does this because it’s the one place Zhao has hidden a backdoor mechanism to unlock the penthouse. You know, just in case.
By the time Skyscraper’s Enter the Dragon finale rolls around - state-of-the-art technology and randomly-placed high-resolution screens are used to create the world’s most expensive mirror maze - any sense of plausibility has has been thoroughly destroyed.
And yet, Skyscraper remains goofy fun because despite all the incredible action choreography and dubious plot mechanics, it takes itself semi-seriously and follows a genuine sense of internal logic that leads from one scene to the next.
Credit for that should go to writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball, Central Intelligence), who has managed to craft an entirely coherent - if ridiculous - script that naturally carries the action from one setpiece to another. Every significant element is properly set up before it pays off, and there’s no fat here, with late-movie nods to first-act developments.
Kudos, too, for not turning the Neve Campbell character into a damsel in distress, but an military veteran who can take care of herself and has her own role in the action, if a less colorful one than her co-star. Only thing that’s missing here: a baddie worth rooting against, with Møller’s character strictly relegated to stock villain territory.
Skyscraper may be dumb fun, but it’s been crafted with a keen sense of what makes ridiculous action movies enjoyable. Too often do these kinds of movies go underappreciated, and this one is a lot more entertaining than Johnson’s other 2018 action blockbuster, Rampage.