“It’s okay to be scared.”
The quote directly above, said with great confidence by the planet’s biggest action star, is what sets Skyscraper mildly apart from the many movies which influenced its entire being. You wouldn’t find it in The Towering Inferno, nor would you hear Bruce Willis’ Die Hard living John McClane saying this let alone thinking it. None of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s characters would have had the time to give such softness a second thought. The Bad Boys were far too cool to calmly admit how they felt. That’s not meant to slight these excellent late 80’s-90’s era inspirations that Skyscraper directly pulls material from – and honestly never fully lives up to – but is more to justify the thought behind the story’s attempted scope. This film looks very, very bland. And yet it has an abundance of enough heart to counterbalance and stomach all of its sheer idiocy.
Former FBI operative and war vet Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) somehow gets the contract to oversee the security of the world’s tallest building. Bigger than Burj Khalifa and dwarfing the Shanghai Tower, “The Pearl” is a man-made Tower of Babel, beautifully showcasing the audacity of man’s engineering ingenuity as well as the pride we get from reaching for the heavens. There’s exorbitant amounts of money involved and some shady business deals on the side. Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han), the mastermind behind the literal monstrosity gets hunted down by hired hands. Almost thirty minutes are devoted entirely to setup action payoffs that take up a third of the time. Skyscraper is more of a concept than it is a coherent and developed story, and because the movie aims to be larger than life, it’s always unknowable even when it’s confined to secure locations.
Skyscraper is the kind of movie that makes me question its leading man’s intentions. I love seeing an amputee lead a film. I applaud that Will’s wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) is a badass in her own right. It’s important to see Johnson spearheading films like this one, so routinely typecast with a standard white male as the star. Yet his action movies tend to buck conventions without having the know-how to truly transcend them, and the stale style of them all only diminishes the power of the careful choices made along the way. It’s important to realize that Skyscraper does some pretty radical things; it’s just as necessary to understand that, despite its vision for change, it still prioritizes formula first. His films are designed to be global money-making vehicles with a few dashes of intelligence and an abundance of unbelievable theatrics. While they’re profitable, they’re also disheartening.
Part of the issue is that Johnson continues to lend his A-list talent to C-list directors. Rawson Marshall Thurber creates some anxiety driven action sequences, yet his knack seems to be for comedy, a genre that he hardly blends well into such a big and brash action flick. Skyscraper isn’t horrible, yet at the same time I wondered what might’ve ended up on screen if the script made any sense. If it hadn’t waited until the 3rd act to give the bad guys a little motivation for their efforts. If it had developed the semblance of a relationship between the protagonist and the antagonist. If it had filmed the small moments with the same adoration that the big-budget shots received. Skyscraper has lofty ambitions and doesn’t lack for sweat or elbow grease, but that doesn’t mean much when it’s all lost to cloud coverage.
“Anything can be done with the proper motivation.”
Rating: 2.5 out of 5