Early on in Skyscraper, before there are terrorists and fires and falling, Dwayne Johnson’s Will Sawyer, the new security head at a giant Hong Kong skyscraper called “The Pearl,” is taken to a very special room inside the tower by its owner, Zhao Min Zhi (Chin Han). I hereby submit this room has to be the most ridiculous room in movie history. In this giant room, dozens and dozens of screens emerge from the floor, projecting live images of both Will Sawyer and Zhao Min Zhi, creating a couple of “that’s not me, it’s a screen; I’m actually over here!” moments. There’s no godly reason why this room would ever exist in any sort of reality other than to stage a climatic fight at the end of an action movie. Which happens here because of course it does – why else would they show us this ridiculous room?
Honestly, if the whole movie were as silly as that room, I probably would have been on board with Skyscraper. The biggest problem with Skyscraper is it’s a little better than you think it might be, which somehow makes it worse. As in, it takes itself a bit too seriously, which makes most of the movie feel kind of dull. (I saw Skyscraper in a theater three fourths full with non-media moviegoers who seemed pretty pumped for some Skyscraper action, so it was remarkable how quiet the theater was for most of the movie.)
Will Sawyer is an ex-FBI agent who lost his leg in a hostage negotiation gone wrong. He’s now moved to Hong Kong with his wife, Sarah (Neve Campbell), and two kids for this job at “The Pearl,” Hong Kong’s newest tall building. Now, Johnson and Campbell are both pretty great in this. Johnson is for sure going for something with more depth, as he’s playing a man with a disability who is not superhuman (though he still does plenty of superhuman things). And it’s great to see Campbell as a military surgeon who can also handle herself in a fight. In other words: she has quite a bit to do in this movie. (What a waste it would have been to hire Neve Campbell and waste her talents in this, which we see over and over in similar situations, but thankfully that doesn’t happen.) The problem is Johnson and Campbell both give it their all in a story that just kind of fails them. Try as they might, they can’t save it.
Since seeing Skyscraper, I’ve rewatched the movie it probably borrows from the most, 1974’s The Towering Inferno. Now, The Towering Inferno is insanely entertaining. Not to mention we get a movie with both Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. (Oh, and Fred Astaire, who snagged his only Oscar nomination for this movie.) For people who think of The Towering Inferno as disaster movie schlock, it may come as a surprise to learn it was nominated for Best Picture. Anyway, yes, I can’t recommend The Towering Inferno enough. Go see it!
But what causes a lot of the tension in The Towering Inferno was just the sheer amount of characters. Who will make it out of the inferno alive? We don’t know! But Newman’s Doug Roberts and McQueen’s Mike O’Halloran try to save as many people as possible. And there are a lot of people to save. By contrast, in Skyscraper, the building is pretty much empty. It’s just the Sawyer family, Zhao Min Zhi, and the terrorists.
Oh, yeah, in The Towering Inferno, the fire is caused by faulty wiring that could have been avoided, but they had to get the building open, so all the work is shoddy. It’s about money over safety. In Skyscraper, terrorists start a fire in the building for reasons I still don’t completely understand. It involves trying to find a thumb drive with incriminating information. I mean, this movie has a skyscraper on fire, yet the plot comes down to being about a thumb drive. Also, it has an insanely obvious case of one of those “seemingly nice family friend who is going to betray us” characters. Beware the nice guy who has behind-the-scenes zoo passes for the kids! (And before you yell at me about spoilers, this all happens at the very beginning of the movie).
And (spoiler alert, I guess) we know nothing really that bad will happen to the Sawyer family, so it all becomes “how will each terrorist die,” because those are basically the only other people on the building. So in reality, Skyscraper is about a mostly empty building on fire while the few people in the building chase down a thumb drive.
Skyscraper could have been ridiculous fun! Or, it could have gone full-on ‘70s era dramatic disaster movie. Instead, it’s somewhere in the middle and just kind of flounders. But, thankfully, Skyscraper does feature a room custom built just for an action movie ending, which does give us one pretty fun moment. So, at least there’s that.
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