Billed as a homage to Die Hard and Towering Inferno, Skyscraper's lack of wit, grit and suspense leaves it far behind its predecessors.
The ‘big, dumb & fun’ genre of films hasn’t had a great run of things so far in 2018. They’ve made money, definitely, but the balance has been out. Be they clangers like Pacific Rim: Uprising or mindless popcorn offerings like Rampage, there’s been a lot of ‘big’ and even more ‘dumb’, however the fun has been noticeably absent. The latest entry, Skyscraper, restores a little of that balance, yet its overwhelmingly dumb script and story regrettably render this blockbuster little more than a passing diversion.
Set in Hong Kong and starring Hollywood’s most bankable star Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, it’s a thriller centred around ‘The Pearl’, the world’s tallest and ’safest' building. Johnson plays Will Sawyer, a former FBI agent turned high-rise security expert who finds himself in the midst of a convoluted terrorist plot to steal a valuable flash drive by setting fire to the Pearl in order to flush out its billionaire owner. Allusions to both Die Hard and Towering Inferno have been embraced by Universal to the point of creating homage movie posters, but Skyscraper possesses neither the wit and gritty action of Die Hard nor the suspense of Inferno to see it come even close to either.
Johnson, of course, does his level best to keep the film at least entertaining, but even he is robbed of his usual charm-fuelled asides, left instead to deliver bizarre non-sequiturs like “if you can’t fix it with Duct Tape, y’aint using enough Duct Tape” (also ranking as perhaps cinema’s most unexpected product placement). The movie’s villain, too, is entirely forgettable, and whilst it might be unreasonable to hope for another Hans Gruber anytime soon, writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber could at least have endeavoured to give us something a little meatier than ‘generic hired gun’. Refreshingly, Neve Campbell pops up as Johnson’s wife and plays a far more appealing and capable action-movie heroine than the traditional ‘wife in distress’ role. Multilingual, combat-trained and a surgeon, she’s the first to clue in to the terrorist’s plot and doesn’t back down when the guns are pointed in her direction. Being a Legendary Pictures production and set in Hong Kong, Skyscraper also boasts some of Asia’s biggest stars in Chin Han and Byron Mann, however they’re very much relegated to secondary roles (at least in the western-release version of the film) to the point where the movie could just as easily have been set in Vancouver where it was actually filmed.
And then there’s that jump. Since the first footage was released from Skyscraper, every poster, promo spot and trailer has focussed upon Johnson’s physics-defying leap from the towering crane into the blazing building. Every part of the sequence is ludicrous, from the impossibly short space of time it takes for Johnson to ascend the crane in a free-climb, to the Olympic gold medal everything a leap of that magnitude would win, to the police shooting at him from a helicopter despite him being unarmed and no threat to anyone. Of course, in the end he does land the jump and the crowds both on screen and off cheer in unison. It’s a perfect example of the big, dumb & fun existing in perfect harmony; the great shame being how few of these moments exist in Skyscraper despite a setting of such scale and design offering so many more possibilities.
There’s not much of Skyscraper that holds up to any real level of scrutiny, but as a simple 'park your brain at the entrance’ type distraction, it mostly gets the job done.