When a movie involves characters enthusing about building the tallest Skyscraper in the world, you know that the building is going to be in for a Bad Time come the end of the first 20 minutes. And so it goes that we barely have much time to enjoy Hong Kong’s 3,500 foot ‘The Pearl’ before it’s on fire. Luckily few people are in there except, oh no, the family of private security consultant Will Sawyer!
Sawyer (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) is a former FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader who lost his left leg below the knee when a rescue went wrong. Now, with a wife and two children, he is bidding for the security contract at The Pearl. The pitch to owner Zhao Long Ji is successful, but Sawyer’s tablet with the security codes is stolen which proves problematic when international terrorist Kores Botha uses it to shut down the fire repression system and then ignite a whole upper floor.
As you’d expect for a blockbuster action flick, the ‘why’ is less important than the ‘how’. The presence of ever charismatic Johnson in the lead role means that even the movie’s somewhat more predictable moments are sold with his likeability. A cynic may argue that his character’s disability of only having one leg is designed to showcase a progressive attitude. Regardless, the fact that so few movies have less abled characters beyond pure sympathy fodder or villainous ‘otherism’ it is genuinely a nice touch to have Johnson kick ass in an everyman kinda way but not let his disability define him.
The comparisons to be made are obvious. Terrorism in a huge building screams Die Hard as a reference point. And said huge building being on fire fans the flames of The Towering Inferno. Sadly, Skyscraper lacks its own Hans Gruber. Botha (Roland Møller) is a perfunctory baddie that lacks the screen grabbing presence required to make a villain stick in the mind. The plot MacGuffin he is after is by the by, simply something to warrant the walls of flames that begin to engulf The Pearl.
Yet while Skyscraper hardly shakes off its influences, director Rawson Marshall Thurber makes sure the set pieces bring the fun in big enough lungfuls to breathe life into the scenes. Johnson’s efforts to rescue his family never come across as superhuman (although the movie is a tribute to the life-saving qualities of duct tape) and the tension is kept high when it should be. Will he make that jump? Will he escape those flames? Does having your false leg pulled off in a fight stop you? Popcorn munchers will get a belly full several times over.
Skyscraper is the kind of movie you throw on when you want to disengage the brain and entertain your eyes. Without Johnson in the lead it would probably struggle to make an impact but, like Bruce Willis in Die Hard, his determination is tempered with the right amount of fear required to sell the life or death moments. Just because a movie is ultimately forgettable doesn’t mean you can’t have a damn good time watching it all go up in flames!
Words by Michael Record