Movie Review: Skyscraper

  • Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han
  • Screenplay By: Rawson Marshall Thurber
  • Music By: Steve Jablonsky
  • Cinematography by: Robert Elswit
  • Running Time: 102 Minutes
  • Premiered: July 13, 2018 (USA)

Synopsis: A security expert must infiltrate a burning skyscraper, 225 stories above ground, when his family are trapped inside by criminals. (From IMBd)

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Review: Finally a movie that celebrates the world’s greatest unsung hero: duct tape! Nothing keeps things together quiet like duct tape, if it is not working, just add more tape. Skyscraper is a tribute to previous disaster films, including The Towering Inferno (1974) and Die Hard (1988) (which my brothers contend is the greatest Christmas Movie ever made). Like The Towering Inferno, Skyscraper involves a burning high-rise filled with dastardly men intent on killing Dwayne Johnson.

Dwayne Johnson portrays Will Sawyer, a security assessor, and former FBI hostage rescue specialist. The billionaire developer of  The Pearl, the titular skyscraper, hires Will to check out the security system in order to secure insurance for the building. Shortly after Will and his family become The Pearls’ first, temporary, residents, the building mysteriously goes up in flames. Will, trapped outside the building, must battle flames and a group of bad guys to save his wife and children. At one point only a giant roll of duct tape holds him together, and causes him to utter the best line in the film: “If you can’t fix it with duct tape, you haven’t used enough duct tape.” Johnson shared that he wanted to make a tribute film to The Towering Inferno and Die Hard, and he succeeded. Skyscraper borrows heavily from the aesthetics of Inferno and takes the climax from Die Hard. The duct tape pulls the two together.

After getting hired to assess The Pearl, Will arrives in Hong Kong. One physical aspect of Will is a missing leg. Will’s prosthetic leg should win an award for the hardest working supporting character/multipurpose appliance. Over the course of the film, Will jumps off a construction crane; is battered, bruised, and burned in various scenarios; and pulls a Tom Cruise stunt from Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol by climbing up the side of the building, only Will uses duct tape instead of Ethan Hunt’s special gloves. Through all this, Will’s prosthetic leg goes above and beyond the call of duty and proves quite useful in several sequences. Part of the subtleties of the narrative is that Will is missing a leg but it never hinders him in any way. He can still save his family, outsmart some badass bad guys, climb up a building, and jump off a crane, the prosthetic actually proves more helpful than a real leg would in several scenes.

Sarah Sawyer, Will’s wife, is no shrinking violet. Played with unforced authority by Neve Campbell, Sarah is a Navy combat surgeon who knows Mandarin and martial arts. In an unprecedented casting decision, Campbell is only two years younger than Johnson. It was refreshing to see a movie where the husband and wife characters actually looked like a real couple. The “wife” character in such films rarely gets a real profession and is usually significantly younger than the hero. Sarah can more than hold her own and proves a capable partner for Will.  

While not a complicated film, the narrative structure includes a satisfying symmetry: husband and wife help save each other, and then team together to save the kids. The Pearl is a beautiful building, with a rainforest and waterfall halfway up and owner’s quarters on the 220th floor. Chin Han portrays Zhao Long Ji, the owner of The Pearl. As supporting characters go, he does not have a lot to do other than walk around and act important. This is a Dwayne Johnson film, so nearly all the action revolves around his character.

Rawson Thurber, the director, keeps the subplots to a minimum and stays focused on the action at hand. This is a movie about a burning building. As such, most of the film revolves around character trying to get in/get out of the building or trying to determine what starter the fire. Anything not directly associated with the burning just wastes screen time. As his first dramatic film, Thurber does a great job keeping the action on point and the narrative from straying from the main point. He also wrote the screenplay. Writing gripping screenplays takes a lot of effort, the line between “awesome” and “campy” is easily blurred. Thurber mainly shoots comedy films, which is a different writing skill set than drama. For the most part Skyscraper was a fairly tight script. One area I though Thurber struggled with was exposition. Some of the dialogue laid on the exposition a little too thickly, especially with the cop characters who uttered some phrases that seemed out of place. I will not go into details so as to not spoil the narrative. Hopefully Thurber will work on this and his next drama will have a tighter script.

Overall, Skyscraper is a solid, character driven action film. If you like The Towering Inferno, San Andreas, Die Hard, and any other film in that genre, Skyscraper is a worthy addition.

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