Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber.
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Pablo Schreiber, Noah Taylor, Roland Møller, Hannah Quinlivan, and Chin Han.
A father goes to great lengths to save his family from a burning skyscraper.
Skyscraper isn’t *just* Rawson Marshall Thurber’s first written/directed non-comedy. It’s The Towering Inferno meets Die Hard meets Dwayne Johnson’s mammoth flare for blockbuster excitement. How do you contain Hollywood’s bulkiest, most brute powerful, sculpted-from-iron action hero? You douse scenes of substantial action in gunpowder and double the punch as to stoke The Rock’s full potential. This homely, salt-and-pepper-bearded papa Johnson who, fists-clenched, chews scrap metal and fears nothing. Not even a crumbling, 200-plus floored spire to heaven can deter our generation’s hardest working on-screen survivor. Don’t act like you’re surprised.
Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) has left his FBI Hostage Rescue Team position behind for private security contracts. His latest client (Zhao, played by Chin Han) just built Earth’s tallest architectural wonder: The Pearl. Lower half retail floors are already open to the public, but The Pearl’s top-half residential suites cannot be filled until Sawyer’s floor-to-ceiling analysis of the entire structure’s security systems is approved. It’s upon Sawyer’s visit to Hong Kong and The Pearl that a gang of tactically-equipped terrorists start a fire on the 96th floor that begins to rage out of control – framing Sawyer. Oh, and did I mention his wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and their two children are also trapped in the high-rise? Above the flame line?
Yippee-ki-yay, construction crane jumpers.
As a disclaimer, understand that heights are this reviewer’s mortal enemy. Trust that Skyscraper made my stomach bottom out and unmentionables pucker quite frequently given how Sawyer spends far more time *outside* The Pearl than expected. Remember that ludicrous trailer shot where Johnson leaps from a SUPER CRANE and through a shattered whatever-story window? How much rappelling and dangling is shown? That’s because Sawyer finds himself wrapping duct tape around his hands and going cut-rate Spider-Man more often than expected – and it’s a tad woozying for intolerant looker-downers.
Also gasp-a-minute awesome.
It’s almost as if Thurber and Johnson knew they’d face Die Hard comparisons so the duo blew Bruce Willis’ gauntlet into the stratosphere. Skyscraper goes above, beyond, and creates a towering antidote to summer movie boredom. Johnson conquers the unbelievable with knock-em-out technique, determined grit and fatherhood fuel that makes failure no option. Hanging stories-high off monkey bars (he slips, we scream), bashing a formidable Pablo Schreiber with his prosthetic leg, slipping his fake foot inside a tiny rope loop after jumping through spinning hydraulic turbines as to *narrowly* avoid plummeting towards a splattery death against one-and-a-million odds – oh, right. Will Sawyer lost his leg while on hostage rescue duty and wears an unbreakable fake (like, Vibranium my dude). It’s a character device meant to humble and “downsize” Johnson, which – surprisingly – the combination of parental warmth, exasperated expressions and physical “handicap” accomplishes. Think evening the playing field to favor angry Scandinavians with assault weapons (fair is fair).
The Pearl – this twisting, idyllic paradise bottled inside one-man’s utopia simulation – sells industrial marvel and architectural splendor. Thurber’s management of such an unwieldy constructed beast trumps Brad Peyton’s San Andreas skyline disaster. Great distances are gravitationally felt as Sawyer pulls himself towards yet another broken window opening via meat-and-potatoes strength. Scenes exploit Johnson’s suspended-by-a-thread acrobatics and push us to the very edge of our own seat ledges. As out-of-control helicopters morph into rocketing fireballs or Johnson *holds a goshdang bridge together while his family crosses,* Thurber buys into B-grade sensibilities that allow for maximum enjoyment. Do we know why Zhao installs so many mirrored HD screen panels in his orb-shaped conservatory? Or how Sawyer digitally orients himself so quickly come imminent danger? Of course not. Does it make for a house-of-mirrors sequence befitting an otherwise rough-and-tumble ascension instigated by waterfall infernos? Yes, henchmen falling through floor holes and all.
Thurber knows what you’re paying for – and it’s not *just* Johnson (uh, phrasing?). A large part, yes. That’s why you’ll get his pierce-through-diamonds death stare when Mr. Lead Maniac (Roland Møller) threatens his daughter, Herculean cable wrangling mentioned above, physical impositions that range from calm disarmings to pure vengeance. The Rock exerts himself and accomplishes feats of otherworldly strength while dropping a toothy grin or eager one-liner (surprises better experienced) – but you’ll also witness Campbell’s Navy-trained medic dominate weasely gangsters something fierce and fend for herself as veranda views buckle under immense heat (mama who kicks her own asses). Children Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell) recall their daddy’s teachings and navigate danger. Don’t get me wrong, Skyscraper is Johnson’s continual talent flex – just with room for a Chinese hitwoman played by Hannah Quinlivan to make us all think “Why isn’t Hannah Quinlivan in more things I’ve seen?”
Annoyances and “detractors” are miniature details meant to add drama but are forgotten once Johnson enters frame. Henry’s asthma, for instance. When dashing through a garden blaze with mom and sis, he falls unmovable due to another coughing fit. Sarah gets diverted thanks to falling debris, and then another flaming barrier lands between Henry and Georgia. Henry, who hasn’t puffed his inhaler yet, is screwed – right? He would be if the film decided to honor Henry’s illness arc but instead the boy responds with unblocked speech (aka zero inhalation problem). Miraculously cured to suit the plot.
Some might think this a write-off offense, and I get it. We’re not here to see a small boy get swallowed by Hades’ spitfire. “Just let me watch The Rock bust TV screens with his noggin and do 10x worse to the men who inflict pain unto him or endanger his clan.” With that mentality, praise a film that delivers on such foreshadowing as “I’ve laid down my sword, so to say.” If a metal antenna is being used as a building-scaling checkpoint, it’ll snap under Johnson’s dense weight at the *last* possible (saving) second. Bullets whiz-bang around metallic backrooms, action thrills with breakneck force, and seedy marks are never hidden. Thurber knows the move you’re here to see and dreams big enough to squash “nonsense” plotlines with larger-than-life daredevils pressed against a slick, glassy surface touching the sky.
I might have suffered as many mini-anxiety attacks as there are floors Dwayne Johnson is forced to climb, but despite my heartbeat still racing as of this write-up, Skyscraper delivers everything you’d want from a summer blockbuster. Less Die Hard, more an action fan’s Cirque du Solei with guns, lotsa explosions, and some serious birds-eye views that Rawson Marshall Thurber so casually peers down like we’re about to fall forward out of our seats. Panic and pleasure duke it out while Will Sawyer dirtily ascends higher and higher, risking his life with superdad purpose. The Rock’s dominating prowess may be “downplayed” here – comparatively, mind you – but tension still tightens whether trigger-happy terrorists give chase or mid-air flips exert that one last “oomph” upwards to safety. All that and Thurber still has time for lil’ McKenna Roberts to buck gender norms by demanding she be called a “King,” not a “Princess?” Well look at you, Skyscraper. Way to prove summer movie seasons can be more than caped crusaders saving the day in grand-scale capers.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★