Skyscraper and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures
Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber
I for one will NEVER turn down a Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson flick even if it looks as freaking ridiculous as this Die Hard knockoff looks to be! The guy is an unstoppable force in Hollywood and the fact that almost all of his movies are least SOMEWHAT enjoyable is a good indication of why that’s the case. This one looks to be no different in any significant way, but hey! More of what we love from the guy can’t possibly be a bad thing… right? Does this manage to be fun despite its silly premise and unbelievable set pieces, or is there a limit to what even THE ROCK is capable of carrying? Let’s find out!!
Our hero is Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) who’s a former FBI… SWAT… Solider… something, who’s spent the last ten years working as a private security consultant. See, he had to retire after… the incident, which may have taken one of his legs also led to him meeting his wife (Neve Campbell) who he then married and had two kids with (McKenna Roberts and Noah Cottrell) so six of one half a dozen of the other! Anyway, he’s landed his biggest job yet as a third party verifier of the security and safety systems that are put in place at THE PEARL. What is THE PEARL you may ask? Well it’s the largest skyscraper IN THE WORLD (it sure would suck if someone had to climb it later in the movie) that was built by Chinese billionaire Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han) and is about to open its upper floors to renters; provided of course they pass Will’s safety check which will secure them a reasonable insurance policy! Well as exciting as all that sounds, things start to go south as a crew of well-trained criminals (led by Roland Møller) not only infiltrate THE PEARL but also get total control of their security system, and they set fire to the upper floors in an attempt to smoke Zhao out of his penthouse and get whatever it is he’s hiding up there. There’s just one problem! Okay, actually two problems. Will’s family was STAYING on one of those floors they just so happened to set on fire, and Will himself was outside THE PEARL as part of his security check and now needs to find a way inside. So not only did you piss him off by putting his family in danger, you’re gonna force him to face heights, smoke, and absurdly high temperatures as well which is just gonna get him THAT much more angry at you! Can Will somehow infilitrate the burning building and save his family before it’s too late? What exactly is Zhao hiding, and is worth all the destruction these bad guys are causing? Wait, is he SERIOUSLY gonna try to jump that!?
John “The Dwayne” Rockson is probably the most bankable action star since the heyday of Schwarzenegger and this is another solid entry in his soon to be lionized acting career; especially when he finally runs for President. Is it his best? Not really, but it’s certainly better than other films he’s been in (*cough* San Andreas *cough*) and is more than entertaining enough to justify its brisk runtime. I kind of wish that he’d learn a lesson from Schwarzenegger though and try to avoid being type casted so completely while in his limelight because a few tweaks to the story could have REALLY brought this to another level and may it have even gotten out of the shadow of Die Hard, but there are plenty of Die Hard rip-offs that aren’t as good and some that are downright horrendous (*cough* London Has Fallen *cough*), so it could have very easily been a whole lot worse. Not really a ringing endorsement I suppose, but a solid entry in a winning formula is still worth commending in my book!
For the most part this movie manages to do JUST ENOUGH to keep its head above water and mostly entertaining. Where it shines though is in its set pieces which are alternatively well shot and intense sequences of human endurance, and bat shit goofy moments that exist just to entertain the audience; story and logic be damned! We all saw the trailer which had the phenomenal leap of death from the crane, but it gets even MORE ridiculous from there! There’s this sci-fi house of mirrors thingy that makes NO damn sense in the context of the movie except that it’s a perfect setting for an action set piece, and when they do get to that scene it REALLY does work! This is the kind of movie I’m willing to suspend my disbelief for because the payoff is completely worth it. The story is nothing special but they pepper it with humor throughout, and Rock “The John” Dwayneson is just as compelling to watch in here as he is in anything else; both of which go a long way to keeping things moving between the great action scenes which are plentiful and always ridiculous. Look, this isn’t about to win an Oscar and it’ll probably be forgotten once it leaves theaters, but as disposable summer action it’s got a lot more going for it than you’d initially think.
Honestly? That’s really about it. There’s not much more to talk about in regards to the film itself, so instead let’s take a moment to discuss Mr. The Rock himself and the state of blockbusters; something I had plenty of time to think about whenever things slowed down in here. Dwayne’s biggest asset has been his larger than life charisma which he honed during his years in professional wrestling and a smattering of decent film work throughout the early and mid-2000s, and we could go into a whole discussion of how WWE is practically turning their in-ring talent into a training ground for bankable stars, but trying to get into the mind of Vince McMahon is not a trip taken lightly and is probably best saved for another day. The point is that The Johnson was practically made to be the leading man for this new(ish) breed of blockbuster action films where you NEED a person with as much presence as The Dwayne to still stand out when surrounded by so much spectacle. Hell, the only other people that can do that aren’t even people! Robert Downey Jr has left an indelible mark on Iron Man, but we see those movies because of the Marvel branding. Some Batmen have been better than others, but conventional wisdom isn’t that Christian Bale sells movies or even Ben Affleck. No, it’s that BATMAN sells movies, and this is why Rocky Johnington feels so all-encompassing in pop culture. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the ONE actor currently working who sells a movie simply by being in it because he’s THE ROCK. It’s not a Jumanji movie; it’s a THE ROCK movie. Who cares if Rampage is based on a video game no one cares about? THE ROCK is in it! This is a power shared by very few actors (Schwarzenegger, Will Smith, and Tom Cruise jump to mind; the latter of whom can probably still sell a decently sized movie on his own) and it’s only more impressive once you think of how much more this guy has to compete against with film budgets and set pieces getting bigger and taking up even more screen time. However, his greatest strength (or at least how studios, directors, and writers perceive it) might be his greatest weakness as well.
If I were to point out one HUGE problem with the movie, it’s the rather lackluster characters with John Dwayne being of particular note. You can tell that he’s trying in this role and that the writers had the SEMBLANCE of a good idea here that just never gets a chance to fully manifest. We see him in the beginning doing his usual THE ROCK thing, i.e. saving people while holding big guns, but in a surprise twist… he fails. He fails in SPECTACULAR fashion with the death of three kids and their mother on his head and a missing leg as a constant reminder. For the first act, it kind of turns the over the top grandiose persona that he embodies on its head as you can see his affable charm on the surface, but with the way he answers certain questions and his more measured body language, it’s clearly a mask for something. It seems clear that he never fully dealt with what happened and instead buried his feelings to the point that he’s simply coasting through life; not living it to the fullest or doing things to the greatest extent of his abilities. It sets up not just that he’s vulnerable (something we rarely see from the guy) but also an arc about him being forced to unleash what’s burning up inside of him; possibly for both good and ill. It’s such a shame that this never really happens in the story. Sure, there’s a clear turn from when he goes from LAW ABIDING CITIZEN to FIGHT EVERYTHING UNTIL MY FAMILY IS SAFE, but there’s no unique pathos to it. He goes from reserved tough guy to generic THE ROCK action hero; albeit it to MUCH better results than in say San Andreas which by the way is probably the worst use of his ingrained persona in a movie so far. I kept waiting for maybe a moment of weakness or even a moment of cruelty where he takes things a step too far and unleashes a bit too much of his internal conflict onto the bad guys, but that never came. He’s always an upstanding guy even when he’s desperate and fighting for his and his family’s lives, which sadly feels indicative of his oeuvre and the direction these films have been going in. The bigger the movie the movie larger the risk when making it, and Johnny Rockson really only takes movies on that scale these days so everything’s gotta be as mainstream and homogenous as possible; especially since he doesn’t really take on guaranteed success franchise films (how has he NOT shown up in a Marvel movie yet!?) which is an admiral quality about him but then the films he makes have less leeway as they don’t have the guaranteed revenue from toy sales and theme park rides. Is it a weak character because the movie has to get in front of as many eyeballs as possible which means nothing too challenging or uncomfortable? Well that’s probably painting with too broad a brush, but the machine works the way it does for a reason and John Rock Dwayneson is nothing if not a team player. I just hope that he doesn’t burn out at some point given his ridiculously swift output and the rather similar characters that he’s always asked to play.
So yeah, this is about as straightforward and decent of an action film that you’ll find this summer and you’re probably better off seeing something like Ant-Man and The Wasp or The First Purge if you haven’t already. I still recommend seeing it in the theater because it works so well as a fun spectacle, but if you’re burnt out on Dwayneson “The Rockson” Johnson then you might want to wait for something that has a bit more bite to it. It’s undeniable that this guy is one of the best straight up STARS we have right now and I hope he’s genuinely enjoying it considering how long he’s been working to get where he is. Will his star start to fade soon? I doubt that will happen for at least a FEW more years, but I hope that whenever it starts to wane that it’ll be on his terms and that he’ll be happy with the mark he’s made, even if I wish that he would stretch himself just a bit more or if he would pick a project here and there that asked him to. Skyscraper certainly wasn’t that project, but hey; we might as well have fun with improbable bad ass demi-god THE ROCK while we still can!