Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell, Roland Moller, Byron Mann, Chin Han, Hannah Quinlivan
Rated: PG-13 for sequences of gun violence and action and for brief strong language
Movies Starring Dwayne Johnson almost always have a few things in common: action, humor, and at least a little ridiculousness in the service of entertainment. They generally are not subtle or full of nuanced character development. “Skyscraper” fits the pattern. The only character development is the villains realizing how badly they’ve underestimated our hero and his family. If you like this kind of movie and don’t have a bad fear of heights, this is a great way to spend a couple hours in air conditioning.
Johnson plays Will Sawyer, a security expert brought in to evaluate a new Hong Kong high rise: The Pearl, the tallest and most ambitious Skyscraper ever built. Of course, there’s a conspiracy and bad guys. For added suspense, Will’s family has come with him – his wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and their kids Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell). Will winds up outside on the ground while his Sarah and the kids are inside, just above the burning 96th floor.
There are a number of pleasant surprises along the way. Not only is Will a veteran, Sarah was a Navy medic and served three tours. She is no damsel in distress. The kids are scared but not annoying, and have clearly been raised by practical parents. These are capable people in a horrifying situation.
This is a film shot with 3D in mind, and even if you see it in standard format, there are a lot of shots of dizzying heights. Sometimes Will is literally hanging over those heights by his fingertips, or jumping across them. This is not a movie for the acrophobic.
The design of the titular building is beautiful, and it’s reportedly designed using current theoretical architecture. The architect of the currently-tallest building in the world consulted on the film, so it somehow feels simultaneously real and impossibly cool. There are silly gimmicks here and there (a wind turbine in the middle of the building? Really?), but overall it is a worthy centerpiece.
The film’s biggest weakness is its villains. They are essentially presented in shorthand, and when we do find out what their motivation is, it’s pretty flat. The only one with any flair is Xia (Hannah Quinlivan), and her characterization boils down to “emotionless and practical.” most of the flair comes from her striking earring and impractical-but-super-cool hair.
Comparisons to “Die Hard” (the 1988 film where Bruce Willis runs around a high-rise trying to rescue his estranged wife and her coworkers from terrorists) are inevitable but unfair. The capabilities of modern cinema dwarf what was doable 30 years ago, and the tones of the films are miles apart. Also, “Die Hard” is a classic, while “Skyscraper” is just part of this summer’s crop of action flicks.
The rest of the film is solid, though. As long as you’re not too afraid of heights, this is a great summer action flick.