‘Skyscraper’ Spoiler-Free Review: Exactly The Film It Needs To Be

skyscraper

Whether it was intentional or not, it’s kind of a shame that the new Dwayne Johnson vehicle ‘Skyscraper’ is being released on the eve of ‘Die Hard’s 30th anniversary. It’s a film that will inevitably draw comparisons to ‘Die Hard’, but on the eve of film’s 30th birthday, it’s nearly impossible to ignore the comparisons. The curcular nature of the Hollywood machine is an interesting thing. Since it’s release, ‘Die Hard’ has become a trope in itself, often being used as a way to pitch a film quickly “’Die Hard’ on a Plane”. In the case of ‘Skyscraper,’ it’s a film that is literally ‘Die Hard’, just doubling down with a much taller, futuristic building that is also on fire. Ultimately though, the comparisons stop with ‘Skyscraper’s premise (it actually has more in common with ‘Towering Inferno’)–that is unless you’re digging for the similarities between the two films. Regardless of this, a big part of why I had so much fun with ‘Skyscraper’ was the fact that it didn’t try to be ‘Die Hard’.

It’s clear from the onset that writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber is not interested in breaking new ground with the “Die Hard on an X” trope, but rather paying loving homage to it. Considering that Thurber’s wheelhouse in the past has resided in the comedy world with hits like ‘We’re The Millers’ and ‘Central Intelligence’, I’ll be the first to admit that I was unsure of Thurber’s ability to craft a compelling summer blockbuster. Luckily, Thurber has not only created a wholly entertaining piece of popcorn entertainment, but the director has also managed to strike a tone with ‘Skyscraper’ that thoughtfully rides the line between being a serious action film and a kitschy take on the various tropes that action films. Yes, Thurber’s screenplay is derivative, but it’s a competently told story that has a blistering pace–the latter of which is crucial to the film’s success form a directorial perspective.

Skyscraper

Image via Universal

However simplistic the story may be, it’s the performances by Johnson and national treasure Neve Campbell that shines in the film. Without Johnson and Campbell in the leads, ‘Skyscraper’ could have easily been unwatchable. Almost all of the characters are paper thin, but it’s Johnson and Campbell’s chemistry that ultimately anchors the film enough to enjoy the film and give you something to root for. With Campbell in particular, it’s really great to see an active female character that surprisingly passes the Bechdel test. The latest in a series of Chinese co-productions with Hollywood studios, ‘Skyscraper’ is also easily the most successful Hollywood film to integrate the Chinese landscape and culture in recent memory. It’s honestly really refreshing to see females actually being key to the plot, even though characters like Hannah Quinlivan’s Xia ultimately amount to nothing characters that happen to kick a lot of ass in the Hong Kong-set story.

As much as I bought into the journey that our two main characters get themselves thrown into, ‘Skyscraper’ really suffers from its lackluster supporting characters. Although the screenplay wastes solid supporting players such as Pablo Schreiber, Noah Taylor and Byron Mann; it’s the film’s mishandling of Roland Møller’s villainous terrorist Kores Botha that proves to be supremely frustrating. In concept, the character of Botha should be a really fun twist on this archetype, but he just ultimately comes off as lazily written villain with no actual depth, just the perception of it. As a matter of fact, most of the character motivations are half-baked, and–in the case of Johnson’s Will Sawyer–this manifests itself in the form of a character that will do literally anything to save his family. It’s an idea that carries the character forward throughout the film, but also one that feels hollow and un-earned in a certain respect.

skyscraper

Image via Universal

The characters often make decisions that are so ridiculously hard to ignore that thinking about it too much will make your mind hurt. Without getting into spoilers, the McGuffin of the film is a magical tablet that has the ability to control the security systems of the entire building. The idea that the fate of what would easily be the single most expensive of architecture to ever be built hinges a single of a piece of technology can fit in someone’s pocket is absolutely insane to me. While the logic of this pivotal plot device is certainly absurd, the reasoning for the terrorists invading the building is even more so. Thurber’s screenplay is woefully ill conceived at many points such as these, but the film still manages to work as a breezy summer movie that serves as a fun homage to the action genre.

This isn’t to say that ‘Skyscraper’ is a bad movie; it’s just that it’s hyper aware of what it is. While some people will see this movie as ludicrous, Filmmaker intent plays an important part of how to digest a movie like this. If you go into the film looking for a realistic take on how an already outlandish building might be attacked by terrorists, you’re sure to be let down. Conversely, if you go into the film just looking for a crazy movie where The Rock attempts to jump from a computer-generated crane to a computer-generated building, it’s actually a lot of fun. In many ways, ‘Skyscraper’ feels like Thurber’s attempt to re-contextualize the genre for a modern era. However successful you think that this attempt may be, you have to give credit where credit is due to one of the only blockbusters that isn’t based on a pre-established property.

It’s refreshing to see what Thurber has crafted with what is essentially a hybrid of all of the action film tropes possible. It’s a film that wholly embraces the inherent silliness of it’s concept, but never really makes big promises in terms of trying to be more than what advertise itself as. While ‘Skyscraper’ is certainly not an original film by any means, it is well constructed enough to ride on the undeniable nature of Dwayne Johnson’s charisma. In this respect, ‘Skyscraper’ is exactly what it needs to be: a fun, but serviceable summer blockbuster.

skyscraper

Image via Universal

 

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