I often find the arbitrary distillations of movies into a glib sentence to be a rather tedious trend. However, The Towering Inferno meets Die Hard is a fairly accurate assessment of Skyscraper. Sadly, the film has none of the drama or suspense of either of those two “classics”. Overall Skyscraper is a rather lacklustre affair, despite having two very personable leads (Dwayne Johnson and Neve Campbell). It suffers from a very superficial story and insubstantial characters, leaving only a handful of action set pieces to drive the narrative forward. It also makes the mistake of simply asking too much of its audience with regard to their suspension of disbelief and plays fast and loose with the laws of physics. In a nutshell this is a movie that aims for the “big, dumb and fun” market, but sadly only delivers on “big and dumb”. Not even the presence of Dwayne Johnson can elevate the proceedings.
After being invalided out of the services, former FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) now runs a private security company which specialises in skyscrapers and luxury buildings. After the world’s tallest building, “The Pearl” in Hong Kong, is set on fire by a team of international terrorists, Sawyer finds himself framed for arson and wanted by the police. Matters get worse when he learns that his wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and children Georgia and Henry returned early from a day trip and are now trapped in the building above the fire. Scaling a crane next to the skyscraper and gaining access to the burning building, Sawyer has to play a game of cat and mouse with the terrorist leader Kores Botha (Roland Møller). Can he rescue his family, discover why Botha has targeted the building’s owner, Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han) and clear his name?
Usually these sorts of big budget summer action movies are lengthy undertakings, with self-indulgent running times of two hours plus. Skyscraper comes in at a lean 102 minutes. If you exclude the end credits, the film is about an hour and a half and therein lies one of its problems. The overall pacing is a little too quick, especially after the first act has established the plot and characters. The editing is somewhat “off” and you really get the impression that the film has been re-cut multiple times to try and stress certain aspects of the production and to meet the lucrative PG-13 rating it so obviously desired. Hence many of the support characters, such as Inspector Wu, Fire Chief Shen and Ajani Okeke, Zhao's head-of-security are left somewhat vague. Villains Kores Botha and Xia (Hannah Quinlivan) are similarly two dimensional and have no real impact or feel like a genuine threat.
But perhaps the biggest problem with Skyscraper is the actual conflagration itself. In Irwin Allen’s The Towering Inferno, the fire was in many respects a character that grew as a threat throughout the proceedings. Here it is merely a plot device that comes and goes, depending on when writer and director, Rawson Marshall Thurber, needs it. It never really has the dramatic impact it should have, as does the entire sub-plot about “The Pearl” being the worlds tallest building. This concept is just glossed over. And as ever with action movies of this nature, the technical accuracy of the what is presented is woefully inept, even for a genre that usually only flirts with reality. Quite early on in the film, when Will Sawyer decides to scale a huge crane, a line is crossed with regard to our suspension of disbelief. The following leap from crane to building with the obligatory “peddling in air” trope, simply jumps the shark.
Whereas Mr Johnson’s previous disaster movie, San Andreas, managed to stay on the right side of stupidity, Skyscraper sadly crosses the line. It is superficial, lacking in excitement and tonally inconsistent. Perhaps a longer edit with a greater focus on story may have improved matters. As it stands, not even Dwayne Johnson’s buoyant personality and easy-going charisma can really sustain this indifferent blockbuster. For a movie with such a large budget, international setting and cast, it really is a missed opportunity. The current trend in Hollywood of catering specifically to the Chinese film market, should afford film makers with a lot of new creative opportunities. Sadly, rather than weaving region character into the finished products, such productions frequently end up somewhat homogenous and devoid of any identity or charm. Beyond filling time on a flight, Skyscraper really doesn’t have much to offer, which is a shame because given its star and the underlying premise, it should have been far more entertaining.