In Skyscraper, Dwayne Johnson’s hero, the generically named Will
Turner Sawyer, has only one concern and care and love in the world: his family. He tells a former coworker, a potential boss, terrorist baddies, police officers, security guards, whoever, about how much he loves them; it is his defining characteristic and his only characteristic. It is very earnest and very sincere, and it’s one of many signs that Skyscraper is more interested in continuing Johnson’s good-guy streak onscreen than delivering a truly amusing B-movie.
A Die Hard knockoff that has few of its gonzo sensibilities, Skyscraper is very clearly a Family Film. There isn’t that much cursing; there’s a ton of gun violence—so much so that I was wearing a sort of permanent wince most of the time—that is of course PG-13 bloodless; and Johnson’s character is a nice guy with an FBI background, who just made one mistake that has haunted him for years. (The film’s opener, which uses domestic violence for character development, is actually kind of gross.) The movie tries to present Sawyer as a working-class small business owner, an amputee with an unbreakable will, a guy cracking groan-worthy Dad Jokes both around his kids and away from them, and that’s all so nice and flat that there’s barely any drama here.
There is a big tower. The tower is set on fire. The Rock has to save his wife and children from the big tower that is on fire. There are numerous jokes about duct tape (I really want to find out if some kind of pro-duct-tape lobbying group underwrote this film); a few different tower-climbing scenes that mimic Mission: Impossible; and numerous rooms full of Chinese people who are slaughtered and other Chinese people who mistrust our nice American protagonists, and a lady villain played by Hannah Quinlivan who is basically just a haircut and one aggressive earring. I don’t think we ever get her name, but she does try to kill Neve Campbell’s character with a seatbelt, so that’s cool.
Yeah, I’m being hard on Skyscraper, so let me pause. There are a few legitimately good, thrilling things here from director and writer Rawson Marshall Thurber, who previously worked with Johnson on Central Intelligence. Campbell gets solid screen time as Sarah, the Naval surgeon wife of Johnson’s Sawyer, who saves his life early on in the film, is a calm and protective mother to their children, and is able to hold her own in a few fights, including that one where Haircut Villain tries to choke her with automobile safety equipment. She’s saddled with some eye-roll-inducing dialogue (her main banter with Johnson subsists of his “I love you” and her “You better,” which is repeated a few times throughout the film), but she adds a grounding nature the film needs. (Although like Sawyer, Sarah often talks down to the Chinese characters in the film, including the irritating time her character, who of course “minored in Asian studies at Annapolis,” corrects Inspector Wu, an underused Byron Mann, on how to do his job.) As the main bad guy Kores Botha, WHO IS WHITE (don’t mind me, I’m just ecstatic for those unlikely instances when movie and TV terrorists aren’t brown people), Roland Møller is effectively intimidating and also real hot, and a final showdown between him and Johnson in a room full of dozens of LED screens that operate like a sort of hi-tech House of Mirrors is visually imaginative.
And if you are afraid of heights, Thurber really makes you feel it. He uses POV-style camerawork quite well to convey the terrifying, dizzying scale of the building and the insane nature of what Sawyer is doing to get back to his family, whether it’s free-climbing cranes in record amounts of time or standing in a room that is designed to make it look like you’re floating free a mile above the ground. Uh, I have to stop talking about this now because it worked very well in freaking me out.
But still, how much are we really supposed to care about a building? The movie reiterates over and over again that the billionaire builder played by Chin Han “spared no expense” and “this isn’t just any building,” but sorry, yeah, it is. In our collective nightmare of 2018, please don’t ask me to provide any sympathy to outlandishly wealthy real estate developers who have devoted insane amounts of resources and human labor to luxury apartments and designer stores and pricey tourist attractions that are miles high in the sky and literally separate the richest of the rich from the rest of us. If your building burns … it burns.
Certain kinds of dads will like Skyscraper, I suppose. They’ll appreciate that Sawyer says stuff like “Daddy’s gonna go make that bacon,” and that while he married a fine woman, a doctor who served three tours in Afghanistan, he can still successfully perform “surgery” on himself using duct tape (the movie couldn’t include a scene where she patches him up, though?), and although he swore to never pick up a gun again after a mistake in the line of duty, he’ll definitely still kill people to protect what’s his. That sort of patriarchy masquerading as traditional values is all over Skyscraper, and how seriously Johnson seems to take that responsibility, unfortunately, keeps the film away from the goofy fun and levity it needs, despite his familiar charm.
Plus, the man only takes off his shirt once. I mean, what in the actual hell?