Walking into to my theatre to see Rawson Marshall Thurber’s (“Central Intelligence” & “We’re the Millers”) “Skyscraper,” I, like any other critic or savvy filmgoer, saw this movie as a potential rip off of “Die Hard” or “The Towering Inferno,” and when the promotional posters accepted those catcalls of early criticism, it felt more like an admission of those objections being correct, and they are.
It’s a film inspired by previous, and much better, movies that rarely allow for Thurber’s voice to be heard. The film even maintains the familiar traits of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s previous works, #family themes can be found throughout the entirety of this big Hollywood blockbuster of a movie. It’s energetic enough to provide a thrilling experience at times, despite those moments feeling rehashed, and that lack of unoriginality makes this film seamlessly forgettable because there is nothing that shocks or surprises. It’s not a great film; it’s not even a good movie, it's a watchable and harmless big budget movie, as long as you ignore a lot of the blatant flaws and copycat moments.
The film begins with a flashback, of course. We open with a wintery and dark scene in which a suspect has locked him and his family inside of a lodge. After the negotiations fail to solve the problem, blunt force is relied upon as Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) and his team breach the house. He makes the wrong decision, things go wrong, and he wakes up at a military hospital where he meets his future wife, Sarah (Neve Campbell). A familiar set up? Duh.
Nonetheless, “Skyscraper” fast forwards ten years to our present story. Will (Dwayne Johnson) and Sarah (Neve Campbell) have started a family, bringing two kids into this world, Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell). Will (Dwayne Johnson) has founded a small security company, out of his garage. After a solid recommendation from a former teammate, Will (Dwayne Johnson) finds himself testing the most high-tech skyscraper in the world. It has self-sufficient energy, top of the line fire safety measures, and is the tallest building ever constructed. What we have to presume is taller than the 2,717-foot record height, which is held by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, a building used by another blockbuster franchise like “Mission Impossible,” which contains a daring stunt with Tom Cruise running alongside its skyrise windows.
The same kind of movie magic can be found in “Skyscraper,” but Dwayne Johnson is not near as daring. He stands in front of green screens and a closed set. I guess that puts the debate to bed; we now know that Tom Cruise is tougher than Dwayne Johnson. Jokes aside, the story gets to those points of depth-defying thrills when a team of mercenaries and assassins joins together to get back some corrupting information from tech genius and the masterful creator behind this towering feat of tech, Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han).
There is a lot of bloodshed that occurs before the building catches fire and this bland ensemble of replaceable mustache-twirling villains’ plan comes to light. Countless lives are taken and the unimpactful nature of those moments shows the long-lasting failure of blockbusters being unable to make us care about villains killing innocent people. Unlike a fellow blockbuster, “Tomb Raider,” “Skyscraper” struggles to treat death and murder as a necessary evil that our hero must endure, it’s meant for spectacle and “character development.”
These characters aren’t very developed though, Thurber struggles, as his past endeavors show, to make the surrounding characters worth our time. They are never equivalent to purchasing a ten dollar stub, but Thurber does provide moments that make that investment worth it. Though they feel ripped out of a “Mission Impossible” movie or something better than the movie we’re watching, these “Skyscraping” moments are tense and well-handled. Are they inspired? Yes, but that shouldn’t take away from how exciting they are to watch. One of those moments involves the trailer ruined leap from a crane towards an opening in the building, and another takes place with him tying himself to the building itself and repelling down its vertical slide of an exterior.
I, like any other knowledgeable film fan, can spot the influences and flat-out ripoffs, but they are still thrilling to watch nonetheless. The overqualified Robert Elswit provides a lens to the story. The usual go-to cinematographer for Paul Thomas Anderson, Robert Elswit is elected to be the man to make this film look a lot more artistic than it sounds on paper, and in some ways, he does just that. Providing some tangible scenery and some excellent camera movement, it would have been the icing on the cake for a much better movie. For “Skyscraper,” it's a needed pro for this film to become better than the average summer blockbuster, which it ends up being despite Elswit’s efforts.
He’s not to blame for that outcome, and neither is Dwayne Johnson who made me eat my words a bit. I’ve always described him as an average actor, one that can play the two roles of charming and action hero, rarely delivering any semblance of emotion. Partially due to the poor writing behind his movies, and his inability to choose films that test him on that front as an actor. In “Skyscraper” he gives small glimpses of those talents, potentially displaying his range as an actor. It’s not concrete evidence that he can be more than a blockbuster hero, but it's something that should bring relief to his critics. Providing a snippet of a chance that this broad-shouldered, chiseled man of an actor might be more than meets the eye.
“Skyscraper” cannot say the same. It’s everything you expect it to be, and it remains fun to watch which makes it “successful?” I think what makes these movies successful is box office gross, but I can resonate with those who love this movie, perhaps they should see more movies though, better ones in that. I’ll admit that “Skyscraper” does surprisingly display some level-head brilliance, de-establishing the expected ego of a movie star like Dwayne Johnson, not that he has one. You would expect male actors like him to have one, but the third act of this film places him in peril with no one but a woman to save him, something rare to see in a movie like this one. She’s given plenty to do as well, as a military surgeon, she’s not helpless in these situations, and neither are the children. Everyone is given a role in saving the day, which was shocking to see, and one of the welcomed and genuine surprises to be found in this blockbuster tale.
The plot is predictable, and the action feels staged and familiar, but I once heard indie-darling, and fandom favorite Kevin Smith recite a review for “Catch Me If You Can,” a much better movie, stating “sometimes you just want to be coddled in the bosom of a Hollywood movie.” With the vast amount of societally relevant and politically charged filmmaking to be found, “Skyscraper” came at a proper time for me, allowing me to sit down, relax, and enjoy a thrilling ride. It’s a ride I’ve been on before, but fun nonetheless.