220 Stories, and Skyscraper Settles for the Stupidest One.
DIRECTED BY RAWSON MARSHALL THURBER / 2018
Skyscraper gives you a lot of movie for your money! I counted at least 4. The most obvious ones were Die Hard, The Towering Inferno, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and The Lady From Shanghai. Skyscraper borrows, homages and outright steals elements from all of these, and probably quite a few others that one could name. That’s not always a bad thing. Plenty of great entertainment results from the blending and mixing of prior works, but unfortunately Skyscraper doesn’t add any ideas of its own to the mix. It’s just a remix of action set pieces from other movies. That makes for a lot of fun moments, but the whole is considerably less than the sum of its parts.
The movie, like all other movies it seems, stars Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (and that’s not a complaint, just an observation on that man’s remarkable work ethic). Johnson, recently seen in Rampage and Jumanji, plays Will Sawyer. Sawyer is a former FBI Hostage Rescue team leader, who once made a terrible mistake that cost people their lives and cost him a leg. Ten years down the road, he has left the FBI, started a family and founded his own security consulting company, His firm has gotten the contract to examine the security and safety protocols for ‘The Pearl,’ the tallest, most technically advanced skyscraper in the world.
This building is the brainchild of Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han, The Dark Knight), a billionaire industrialist and someone who takes his ‘me time’ seriously. ‘The Pearl’ rises 220 stories above the streets of Hong Kong (for comparison, the Burj Khalifa ‘only’ has 160). Unfortunately, Zhao has made some enemies along the way, and they show up one night with a paramilitary force to take over the building and burn it down. Sawyer has to get inside the burning structure, get past the bad guys, rescue his family and clear his name, since the police believe he was involved in all of this somehow. That’s a lot to get done in 100 minutes!
The whole is considerably less than the sum of its parts.
So Skyscraper doesn’t have a whole lot of time to waste on things like character development or relationship building or establishing audience empathy or any nonsense like that once things get a’burning. When it does have time to break from the action, it has to fill it with loads of nonsense exposition, such as explaining how the entire building can be controlled from drop down menus on an iPad, or to tell us why the bad guys are after Zhao’s magical magenta macguffin (that’s unfortunately not a euphemism for anything, it’s a literal description).
As such, the movie feels constructed out of a series of action set pieces as opposed to a story that grows organically out of events. Some of these set pieces are quite good. The bit where Sawyer has to help get his family over a collapsed bridge was tense and exciting (and kudos to the special effects work by Industrial Light and Magic throughout). The sequence where Sawyer enters the building by means of leaping off an adjacent crane, while the Hong Kong police are hot on his tail, is thrilling. There’s no wonder that it’s used heavily in the marketing of the movie. Overall the action scenes are well-shot, and it’s usually clear what is going on. This is director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s first pure action flick (he previously worked with Johnson on Central Intelligence, but that was focused mainly on the comedy), and as a director he does fine.
But the set pieces don’t always work, and when they don’t it’s not because they’re not directed properly, but because they’re stupidly written. Remember the movie Galaxy Quest? Remember the bit where Sigourney Weaver and Tim Allen have to go down a hallway full of crushing jaws? Yeah, there are plenty of sequences in this movie that feel exactly like that. None more so than when Sawyer has to access a security computer override panel- and it’s been placed in the central shaft of a giant spinning turbine! It’s exciting in the moment, but makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Who would design it like that? How many IT guys have they lost? When Zhao shows off his holodeck at the start of the movie, you know exactly how the final confrontation with the bad guy is going to play out. What other purpose, other than confounding people trying to kill you, could this chamber have? And why did the bad guys have to tunnel into the building? And how does that macguffin work, anyway? Couldn’t someone just make copies of it? None of this makes any kind of sense and the rest of the movie isn’t good enough to distract from the dumb.
None of this makes any kind of sense and the rest of the movie isn’t good enough to distract from the dumb.
There was one interesting idea that began to manifest in my head while I was watching Skyscraper. In a movie that’s otherwise devoid of any sort of broader theme or idea or any sort of original thought, I began to grasp at this idea with the fervor of a drowning man grasping at a life preserver. During the movie, television cameras capture Sawyer’s attempts to get inside the building and his efforts to get at the aforementioned turbine, broadcasting the action so people on the ground can watch it all on a huge television screen. So there I am, watching these people react while they are essentially watching Dwayne Johnson in Skyscraper. They gasp when he slips and cheer when he succeeds. And I’m wondering if perhaps the movie is trying to say something about movies and the nature of watching movies with an audience. Try as I might, though, I couldn’t piece anything together. The problem was that I don’t think this was intentional in any way by the filmmakers. The movie is too unaware and stupid, to be that kind of smart.