Skyscraper Review: An underwhelming, sombre Dwayne Johnson show
There's nothing new in this film that is almost devoid of humour
It’s hard not to like Dwayne Johnson. He exudes charisma, has a great sense of comic timing, and chooses characters that suit his personality… That’s why I’ve not minded his recent films at all, including Baywatch and the less effective Rampage. However, you can’t quite shake off the notion though that since Central Intelligence (also by the director of this film), the entertainment has been dipping, slowly but steadily. Rather revealingly, this also seems to coincide with a gradual reduction of focus on the overall humour. This seriousness reaches a new, er, high in Skyscraper.
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Ronald Moller
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
A la The Towering Inferno, a skyscraper is on fire. Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) — an expert in FBI hostage rescue missions — isn’t in the burning building, but his wife and two children are. It’s all happening in Hong Kong, just so the lucrative Chinese market has something to relate to. Will also has to overcome his disability in attempting this seemingly suicidal rescue mission. The odds are stacked up, but that’s how The Rock likes it.
Rather conspicuous by a lack of total initiative, the Hong Kong police in this film are reduced to bystanders. The two top cops watch the Dwayne show from afar, with the occasional expression of shock or relief. At one point, Will goes as far up a telephone tower as the eye can see, and makes a spectacular lunge into the skyscraper. The cops look at each other, as if finally waking up to what was going on. These cops are worse than the ones in our films. At least, our guys have the excuse of turning up late.
The problem in Skyscraper isn’t just that it’s almost entirely devoid of humour. It’s plagued by a serious lack of any real novelty. It feels like an echo chamber of familiar action set pieces. Will is rappelling, and you know exactly when he’ll get yanked off. He’s holding a bridge together with his bare arms, and you know exactly when his wife will slip. These shocks feel cursory, and nowhere is this more evident than in the fiery chaos that results in the ostracisation of Will’s family. His wife and children are together, but the director’s decided that they should all be isolated to increase the threat. The ‘bridge’ they are all on caves, with Will’s wife on one side and the two children on the other. And almost instantly, as if summoned, one huge burning block falls squarely between the two children, isolating both. It’s the sort of simplistic orchestration that robs Skyscraper of its thrills.
I liked that Will’s wife isn’t just a damsel in distress. She’s waiting to be rescued, sure, but isn’t entirely without initiative. There are a couple of echoes that I suspect may have seemed better in writing than they are in the film. In one, Will is forced again by circumstances to negotiate a similar situation to the one that caused his disability. In the other, a seemingly trivial scene about Will’s wife having her phone repaired comes full circle. While the writerly intent to use these ideas again is understandable, they feel manufactured. It’s the same problem with the scene in which Will gets saved by his prosthetic leg. Given that his disability barely factors into the narrative, this seems simply like a manufactured way of depicting empowerment.
Also, I found it quite hard to look past how quickly characters move on from near-fatal experiences. After escaping being crushed by fiery pillars, and somehow managing to climb out of gaping crevices, Sawyer’s wife is finally rescued — and in a Dwayne Johnson film, this is no spoiler. She hugs him in relief, and barely a second later, says, “You really should have a bath.” It’s the sort of comic interjection that’s not at all in keeping with the otherwise sombre tone of the film. It’s like someone finally realised that they should perhaps have had more fun with the material.