A devoted father risks everything to save his family from a burning building overrun by criminals in Rawson Marshall Thunder’s Skyscraper.
This kind of film is difficult to review purely because there isn’t an awful lot to say about it. On the surface it’s very much a vehicle for Dwayne Johnson to power through a procession of set pieces until the credits roll. It’s a film that exists for that exact purpose and it doesn’t pretend to be anything more profound for that.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for a film that sets out to accomplish a simple yet particular goal and follows through on it. Comparisons to Die Hard are obvious and well documented so I’ll get acknowledging that out of the way but beyond that this film is more or less the best possible version of itself when considering what it’s trying to do.
The plot is fairly simple and barely exists. Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) is a former FBI agent turned security specialist following an accident that cost him his leg tasked with evaluating the safety procedures in the newly built tallest building in the world. The building itself is the vanity project of Chinese businessman Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han) who has commissioned the structure to be a fully self contained community that generates its own power and caters to many different requirements. In short it’s the perfect venue for disaster as it has residential floors, an indoor park and all sorts of fancy technology that can be circumvented to create perilous situations.
It isn’t long before the building is set ablaze by Kores Botha (Roland Møller) and his collection of gang members/mercenaries looking to get something valuable from Zhao Long Ji and Will has to fight his way up the building to stop them as well as save his family. It’s perhaps a little overcomplicated but the story stops mattering almost entirely very quickly. Once the building catches fire it becomes more about the set pieces than anything else with the story taking a back seat.
This has its drawbacks as it’s difficult to invest in the overall conflict since the film doesn’t spend a lot of time developing Zhao Long Ji and spends even less on Botha and his motivations so that part of the film feels almost empty. If the film had been a bit longer then Botha might have been a better antagonist but in the finished product he’s merely a small part of the overall construction.
Despite that the film is more than entertaining enough to make up for most of the shortfalls. It never goes too long without a set piece and they all feel distinct from one another. Some of them are more impressive than others and there is a tendency to dilute the tension by resolving it a beat of two earlier than it should with a couple of climbing sequences being a glaring example of this issues. Fortunately this doesn’t detract from the lunacy and entertainment too much with each sequences being competent at worst and remarkable at best.
Dwayne Johnson is very capable as the leading man in this sort of film. It goes without saying that his physicality is on point but there are quieter moments where his undeniable range is allowed to show. The dialogue in the scenes he shares with his wife, Sarah (Neve Campbell) and twin children, Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell) does none of them any favours but Johnson conducts himself with a sense of earnestness making it believable that the underlying emotion is real. Will is a man with a prosthetic leg which bears mentioning because it does become important as a prop to be used in the set pieces and creates a sense of irony when the thing he sees as his greatest failure ends up keeping him alive where having two legs would have led to his death.
Sarah is shown to be a very capable character when it comes to keeping her children safe, navigating the dangerous situation and helping to foil the plans of the villains. There isn’t much to her in terms of what is seen on screen but her actions are those of a capable person who is able to handle herself in a crisis. Very little can be said about the two children though they are never annoying and are used the right amount in context of the stiry.
This is another one of those films made with Chinese talent so that it can make a lot of money in China and secure Dwayne Johnson as a movie star in the Chinese market. Byron Mann’s Inspector Wu is shown to be intelligent, competent and rational when it comes to dealing with his part of the situation and Hannah Quinlivan certainly had the potential to be an engaging villain if only the film had given her time to become that.
Visually the film is great. The design of the skyscraper inside and out is distinct and impressive, a mysterious mirror dome adds further visual flare and there is a lot of pretty set dressing to keep things from feeling too samey as the film progresses. Special mention has to be given to the fire effects as they evoke a relentless danger that becomes more urgent as time goes on. All in all an impressive visual package that helps overcome the narrative shortcomings and presents the film as exactly what it’s supposed to be.
An entertaining and competently made disaster blockbuster that amounts to being the best version of what it sets out to do. Dwayne Johnson is a good lead both physically and emotionally, Neve Campbell plays a very capable supporting character, the children are used just enough not to be annoying and the Chinese supporting cast acquit themselves nicely. The biggest problem is that the film lacks a strong villain and abandons the plot fairly quickly but audiences aren’t left wanting for action for too long with competently done set pieces that never fail to entertain. All in all it’s a fun viewing experience that is never boring and almost makes up for its lack of substance with impressive style.
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