‘This is stupid,’ says Dwayne Johnson’s soot-strewn action man at one point in Skyscraper. That’s about as close as we come to self-awareness in a film overburdened with clumsy dialogue, senseless plotting and hackneyed character developments. It should have been the perfect Johnson vehicle: an undemanding yet insane thrill ride, filled with preposterous, physics-defying set-pieces (the trailer-heralded crane jump is just the tip of the ludicrous iceberg) that coasts on the considerable charms of one of the hardest working action heroes around (this is Johnson’s fifth outing of the past 12 months). But rather than a towering triumph, it’s little more than an infuriating disappointment.
Reuniting with his Central Intelligence director Rawson Marshall Thurber, Johnson plays retired FBI agent and war veteran Will Sawyer. Looking to kickstart his security business, he takes a job assessing the world’s tallest skyscraper in Hong Kong. The state-of-the-art structure is apparently so safe, it’s known as the ‘mile-high Fort Knox’… so naturally it’s soon engulfed in flames and overrun with terrorists, leaving Sawyer’s family trapped inside as he desperately searches for a way to save them.
Though Skyscraper is pleasingly unique in having a disabled hero (Sawyer loses his leg in an early character-building trauma), for the most part it’s a shameless regurgitation of other films that leaves little in the way of surprise. It doesn’t help that every twist and turn in Thurber’s script is clunkily foreshadowed in the first act: a kid’s asthma, a high-tech tourist attraction at the top of the building, Neve Campbell’s character’s uselessness with technology… all of these elements come back into play later on, in exactly the ways you’d imagine.
The lack of attention paid to Sawyer’s disability is the biggest missed opportunity. Early on the film works hard to paint its hero as emotionally and physically vulnerable. He’s nervous, untrusting of his body and unsure in his decision making. But all of this is quickly discarded as soon as Johnson is required to perform the super-human stunt work that people came to see. Even the (literal) handicap of having one leg barely troubles Sawyer, being used mostly as a convenient get-out for tricky scenarios rather than an obstacle to be overcome.
That’s hardly ruinous for a film that’s intended to be pure wild escapism – and to Thurber’s credit, he delivers a number of vertigo-inducing sequences. Yet everything is played with such a po-faced manner that it sucks the joy out of proceedings. There’s a lack of clever zingers to let us know the filmmakers are in on the joke, and we’re burdened with a bland, all-muscle-no-flair villain and an absurdly convoluted plot that essentially boils down to a spat over a memory stick.
Johnson is such a likeable (not to mention bankable) star, there’s no risk that we’ll tire of his alpha male antics and you’ll almost certainly find yourself hooked on the action as the film races towards it’s fiery climax. But there’s no ignoring the fact that Skyscraper does not play to his strengths. It lacks the bonkers ferocity of Rampage, the clever comedy of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and the suped-up muscle of the Fast and Furious franchise. In other words: it’s just stupid.
Runtime: 102 mins (approx.)
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Screenwriter: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Møller