If TOMB RAIDER is an example of formula done to standard results, SKYSCRAPER is an example of formula done to slightly better effect. This 2018 movie is every bit as imitative as it looks, with writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber and star Dwayne Johnson steering through a DIE HARD/TOWERING INFERNO-style plot that reads best as a sleek, bright throwback.
SKYSCRAPER is every bit a matinee movie in that it doesn’t outplay itself or reinvent a character or break the genre down. It’s an ode to high-octane storytelling, one done with a sort of splendid proficiency that only breaks down when Thurber’s screenplay stuffs in a few pithy but pointless complications.
Johnson stars as Will Sawyer, a former hostage rescue team dude working as a private security consultant. He and his family are in Hong Kong as he oversees the safekeeping for the tallest building in the world, a superstructure called the Pearl. When a group of bad guys takes over the tower, it’s up to Sawyer to save the day.
Simple, right? The first and most obvious reproach is that SKYSCRAPER is like every other disaster/thriller picture before it. That’s a fact. There’s little in SKYSCRAPER that hasn’t been seen before, done before and done before to a more effective degree. There are few actual white-knuckle moments, but this is no wasted effort.
The ace in the hole for SKYSCRAPER is that it has the audacity to feature a more vulnerable hero. Johnson’s character does not always get the better of the situation and he isn’t the toughest guy in the room, which may sound silly given his incredible physique. But here he is, an action hero bested by a mugger, some bad guys and the odds – more than a few times.
It must be granted that Johnson’s Sawyer is not vulnerable in the sense of Bruce Willis’ John McClane. There is no running across shattered glass and the family situation carries few complications. But a workplace incident does have its effect on Sawyer, even if he does count his blessings enough to aggravate one of his colleagues.
But watching Sawyer face his situation with a certain degree of mortality is invigorating for such a larger-than-life figure. It would’ve been easy to telegraph this as more “Rock kicks ass” flimflam, but a gritty fight scene after early duplicity delights in the element of surprise and provides one of the movie’s highlights.
Still, this is grasping at straws. The outcome of SKYSCRAPER is never in doubt and a wrinkle in which the lead character is considered a suspect is superfluous putty. Neve Campbell provides physical capability if nothing else, while the bad guys and their leader (Roland Møller) are garden variety Scandinavians.
Yes, SKYSCRAPER is derivative and obvious. The argument can and must be made that it does not boast an original idea. But who cares? Whether through chatty foothills of exposition that set the stage as to what parts of the building will be used in imminent action set pieces or through Johnson’s affable performance, Thurber’s flick knows what it wants to be and succeeds by nailing its own low bar.