SKYSCRAPER— 3 STARS
When you see Dwayne Johnson wipe his sweat, furrow his brow, clench his muscles, and fixate his eyes of indomitable resilience at each obstacle in Skyscaper with the sole goal of rescuing his wife and two kids from a 225-story burning building, you immediately feel completely inadequate as a man and especially a father. You want a dad like The Rock. Johnson is the ultimate winning answer to every playground banter battle of “my dad is tougher than your dad.” His screen children, McKenna Roberts and Noah Cottrell, don’t know how good they have it, but we sure do enjoying another glossy, ballsy, and brawny summer blockbuster from the most dependable and bankable action star in the world.
Playing his 46-year-old age with a salt-and-pepper goatee yet bowling over pitfalls like a man half his age, Johnson is Will Sawyer, a former FBI operative and military vet who lost a leg in the line of duty ten years ago during a hostage situation that went south. He has since settled down with his Navy surgeon wife Sarah (a pleasantly awesome where-have-you-been Neve Campbell) and started a family. Sawyer welcomes the slower and safer life of being a security consultant. One of his former teammates (Pablo Schreiber of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi) has brought Will to Hong Kong to score a stellar earning opportunity for his small business.
Sawyer has been tasked to evaluate “The Pearl,” the titular super-structure and self-enclosed high society setting constructed by enigmatic billionaire Zhao Long Ji (The Dark Knight’s Chin Han). Powered by an enormous pair of double helix turbine generators and controlled by an offsite IT facility, the skyscraper contains an indoor 30-story greenspace park and is crowned by its highly-touted sphere attraction and Ji’s own decadent penthouse. The diegetic newscast that introduces us to those celebrated features of “The Pearl” might as well be reading a preview menu of all the potential calamities that will surely come into play later. No sooner than when Sawyer deems the building tip-top and wins the contract, a team of duplicitous inside men and mercenary terrorists led by Kores Botha (Atomic Blonde heavy Roland Møller) infiltrate the data systems and infrastructure of “The Pearl.”
LESSON #1: “LIGHT A MAN’S HOUSE ON FIRE AND FIND OUT WHAT HE REALLY LOVES” — This little villainous aside from Botha is the deepest this movie gets, yet it triggers the initiative for rescue heroics after weaknesses were preyed upon for motivation. He and his grunts light a raging fire on the 96th floor, triggering a lockdown. Botha’s target is Ji and something secretive he values on the premises. However, that fire is two floors below where Sawyer’s family is staying, which presents Will’s answer of adoration to this life lesson quote.
Ninety-six floors up, that fire is still lit close enough under Johnson’s ripped derriere to activate his Casey Ryback mode, putting his conveniently extensive training, steely resolve, and two personal stunt doubles (Tanoai Reed and Myles Humphus) to good use. Johnson, reteaming with his Central Intelligence director Rawson Marshall Thurber, is solidly in his element for this straight-faced actioner. Considering Thurber’s resume (Dodgeball, We’re The Millers) and presence as the screenwriter and director, the movie is incredibly devoid of humor. There’s sober strength to going that route, but a little comedic charm fitting of the over-the-top setting could have been beneficial. The sources of most of the big screen pop come from Craig Hammack’s seamless visual effects from ILM and employing a legitimate DP in Oscar winner Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood), who is no stranger to shooting illusions of height after Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol. They were worth every penny and count as a big step of improvement from something cheap and cheesy like Johnson’s Baywatch from last summer.
LESSON #2: BUILT-IN AUDIENCES IN MOVIES MANIPULATE REAL ONES — To call Skyscraper a crowd-pleaser is actually an on-the-nose compliment when the popcorn flick employs the trope of frequently showing coverage towards a gathered crowd of onlookers cheering the exploits of the film as they happen via the live in-film media they are watching. It doesn’t matter if it’s Independence Day, Apollo 13, or The Martian. All audiences love heroics. When they cheer and gasp, you’re supposed to cheer and gasp and the prodding can be gratingly overplayed.
Still, as often mentioned on this website over the years, the unmatched appeal of The Rock makes everything better, transforming this outlandish knockoff into something thrilling and satisfying with a dose of daddy feels for good measure. As is tradition (see my popular San Andreas review), let’s end on learning all the ways you cannot stop another Dwayne Johnson character.
LESSON #3: THE ROCK DOESN’T NEED A FIREARM TO KICK YOUR ASS — Will Sawyer hasn’t fired a gun in ten years since his injury. Pssh! He has two guns. They rest between his collarbone and his fingernails. They never need reloading other than a large diet of cod.
LESSON #4: THE ROCK WASN’T MADE FOR DUCT TAPE. DUCT TAPE WAS MADE FOR HIM — As if Dwayne Johnson wasn’t channeling Under Siege already, his knack with duct tape now approaches MacGyver territory. “If you can’t fix it with duct tape, you’re not using enough duct tape.” Remember, this ain’t deep.
LESSON #5: THE ROCK HAS AMERICAN NINJA WARRIOR SKILLS — Scale a tower crane to get above the 96th floor fire line? Give The Rock five minutes and he’ll be up that thing in no time to then make a running jump that he either can or cannot make depending on who you ask.
LESSON #6: LIMPING WON’T STOP THE ROCK — That’s not weakness or pain slowing him down. That’s a secret plot device to give the bad guys a head start. That’s showing off a talented layer of physical acting depth necessary to carry the entire movie and nearly the entire action film industry of Tinseltown.
LESSON #7: ONLY HAVING ONE LEG WON’T STOP THE ROCK — The Rock is already indestructible and then you add a carbon fiber and titanium prosthetic leg. Game over. The only thing that can stop that is probably calls for better representation of disabled performers in Hollywood. Oh wait…
LOGO DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED (#708)