Movie Review: Skyscraper
Skyscrapers are marvels of human ingenuity, craftsmanship, and architecture. As monoliths of the sky, they are majestic sights to behold and in a way, they represent man’s ambitions to reach for the skies and beyond. But also, they’re intimidating, not quite reassuring.
The Pearl is no exception. At 3500ft, it towers above Hong Kong with 240 floors, surpassing the Burf Khalifa in Dubai, the one Tom Cruise impressively climbed in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. The Pearl has an elegant design, with a twisting aesthetic that makes it look like the world’s biggest Twizzler.
Staying at The Pearl are Will Sawyer (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), his wife, Sarah (Neve Campbell), and their two children, Georgia and Henry. Will is a former FBI agent who lost his leg at the midst of a hostage situation gone terribly wrong. Now he’s a security consultant who runs his own company from, according to dialogue, his own garage. Fortunately for Will, he’s been tasked with the gig of a lifetime, checking out the security for what he describes as “the tallest, most advanced building in the world.” Unfortunately, it’s no longer the safest.
A terrorist cell infiltrates the tower, seizing control of its system, and setting fire to the floor below the Sawyer’s apartment, leaving Sarah and the two children hostage to the rising fire. This pits Will into the role of the hero as now he must brave amazing feats, such as leaping from a high-altitude crane to a broken window and jumping through the blades of a large turbine, in order to stop the bad guys and, more importantly, rescue his family.
Leaving the film, I couldn’t stop thinking about Die Hard, all the things it does right as an action film, and all the things Skyscraper does wrong. Die Hard’s John McClane is an everyman in both concept and execution. McClane is a middle-aged man, who looks like just a normal guy you would see walking on the streets. He has a receding hairline and a physique you could hardly call muscular. Throughout the 1988 film, he’s beaten, bludgeoned, and bruised, barely able to limp away from trial after trail after trial. When John McClane is hanging off the building, it feels like he is hanging off a building. When his bare feet step in glass, you can cringe at the would-be pain.
Skyscraper’s hero on the other hand, is an everyman in concept only. Will is supposed to be an average guy, but he doesn’t look like an average guy. He looks like The Rock, former wrestler, now action star, a man who could kick your ass with his pinky finger. Thus, for the audience, pitting The Rock against flames and armed thugs becomes less about survival and more about the various ways he’s going to kick their asses. Because he’s going to kick their asses. He’s The Rock.
Even the fact that he is missing a leg only comes up sparingly to remind you in case you’ve forgotten, missing out on the opportunity for us to see The Rock kill a man with his metal leg. (Campbell, however, has never been an action hero, but her strong role in Scream shows that she can lead a thriller. I wonder how much more suspenseful Skyscraper would have been had she, an average person, been the one who had to dangle from those ledges and jump through that turbine to save her children.)
The biggest setback for Skyscraper is that it is always in a rush, never staying in one environment long enough for the audience to genuinely feel the heights, feel the flames, and better yet, feel the danger. In 1974’s The Towering Inferno, the other film for which Skyscraper pays tribute, the filmmakers linger in sequences of pure chaos, to the point where we, in the safety of our seats, feel trapped with the characters, face to face with the spreading fire. We are there when things spiral out of control, when the flames overtake the people escaping through an elevator, and when Paul Newman and Steve McQueen ultimately put the fire out. We are there.
In Skyscraper’s modest 102 minute runtime, Will Sawyer is inside the tower, then outside the tower. He’s stabbed by a thief, then he’s double-crossed. Then he becomes a fugitive for five minutes, a detail which ultimately has little bearing on the plot. He spends so much of the time running from one place to another, dealing with inconveniences that by the time Will “The Rock” Sawyer gets to where we want him to be, the movie is already halfway over. As a result, his vital interactions with the villain, his own family, and even the burning building itself are short-changed. We never feel like we are there. Hell, it barely feels like Will is there.
The film is in so much of a hurry that even the deadly inferno is a towering inconvenience.The only people who ever feel like they are in danger are the henchmen, who are ultimately forgettable and never truly seem to be alive anyway.
A movie like Skyscraper should feel like an impossible climb to the top with multiple levels worth of difficult, but relevant obstacles for our hero to overcome, and an escape just as risky, if not more so than anything else endured in the film. It shouldn’t be an express elevator to the top floor, speeding past anything that’s genuinely compelling.