Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Premise: A security expert (Dwayne Johnson) inspects the world’s tallest building. In the midst of giving his final report, the building is attacked by terrorists who set fire to a middle floor.
What Works: Skyscraper is a stunt show of a movie. The premise is really an excuse to string together a series of set pieces and many of them are well done. Filmmaker Rawson Marshall Thurber has a knack for staging the action and Skyscraper preys on the viewer’s acrophobia. There is a pleasurable anxiety to being scared or getting swept up in a good action sequence. Skyscraper provokes that anxiety in several of its set pieces, especially a sequence in which Dwayne Johnson’s character enters the burning building through a tower crane. As always, Johnson is a likable lead and he’s paired agreeably with Neve Campbell who plays his wife. The married couple and their children are established early on and they are a believable and accessible family. When terrorists attack the building, Campbell’s character and her children are trapped inside. This puts something concrete at stake and motivates our hero to run into harm’s way. But the filmmakers also make Campbell an active player in the action. Among the supporting cast is Hannah Quinlivan as a female villain and Quinlivan makes an impression in an underwritten part.
What Doesn’t: Skyscraper owes a lot to Die Hard. The 1988 film inspired a generation of action movies from Speed to Under Siege to Cliffhanger to Olympus Has Fallen in which a single, reluctant hero takes on a band of armed terrorists, usually in a confined space. The influence of Die Hard is especially evident in Skyscraper which replicates the high rise setting and some of the key scenarios. But Skyscraper misses a lot of what made Die Hard work. There is a tension in Skyscraper between the practical and the fantastic. The scenes of credible and grounded action play well but the film is less successful when it delves into science fiction. In these scenes the film becomes plastic and artificial. The plot is forced and overcomplicated. Early on, Johnson’s character is double crossed by an old friend in a turn of events that doesn’t make sense. The motive of the villains is not compelling and burning the building feels like overkill. The terrorists are mostly generic action movie thugs. They are vaguely threatening but never really villainous. The action is split between the siege in the high rise building and other action going on elsewhere and the filmmakers don’t cross cut the action very effectively. Whenever the story strays from the action inside the building Skyscraper feels like a different movie. The film also suffers from the casting of Dwayne Johnson. The role calls for an everyman, a normal guy who is plunged into extraordinary circumstances. Johnson is a charming and capable actor but he is not an everyman and he is miscast in this role.
Bottom Line: Skyscraper plays as a throwback to the kind of action pictures that were popular in the 1990s which is to say it’s the kind of movie destined to be midafternoon filler on cable television. There are a few outstanding set pieces in this otherwise mediocre film.
Episode: #708 (July 22, 2018)