Dwayne Johnson has been a busy man in recent months. Skyscraper is his third major film in the last eight months, alongside Rampage (click here for that review) and his holiday season mega-hit, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (and that review is here). He has unquestionably successfully transitioned from one of the most iconic professional wrestlers of all-time to one of the biggest movie stars in the world. Johnson has found his niche as an old-school action star, though with more inherent charisma and raw talent than many action stars of previous eras, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steven Seagal, or Jean-Claude Van Damme. This allows Johnson to bring an extra charm to his projects and reach a wider audience. Jumanji‘s success epitomized that notion and, with Skyscraper, Johnson’s magnetism is once again in tow, though the reach of this film will likely be more limited than that of the former.
Directed and written by Rawson Marshall Thurber (We’re the Millers), Skyscraper is a remarkably simple idea that sometimes gets bogged down in the minute details. In short, the film follows former war veteran/F.B.I. agent and current husband, father, and security assessment specialist Will Sawyer (Johnson). While finalizing the final security check for the newly built world’s tallest building (dubbed “The Pearl”) in China, Will’s wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and their two children (McKenna Roberts and Noah Cottrell) are caught in the building during an attack. Not only must the family survive the attackers, but also a fire as it spreads throughout the entire superstructure.
Thurber crafts the film as a throwback to the classic action films of the eighties from which Johnson, himself, seems to have been ripped. Some will maliciously label the film as a Die Hard ripoff but one person’s ripoff is another person’s homage. (And if Skyscraper is a Die Hard rip off, then The Incredibles is a Fantastic Four ripoff, and people seem okay with that. You can’t pick and choose based on personal convenience, you filthy little hypocrites!) The Pearl, itself, is brilliantly designed, both from an architectural perspective and a filmmaking one. Plenty of thought clearly went into throwing oodles of functional and visual quirks into the tower that provide plenty of opportunities for clever and thrilling action sequences.
On that point, the film doesn’t disappoint. After beginning with a shockingly dark prologue, the unveiling of the building to Will is as fun for the viewer as for the characters, with one super-cool reveal after another. Following that, the pace briefly slows for a bit as the groundwork is laid for what’s to come. The technical explanations for the building’s capabilities are necessary, but also dull. Yet, once they’re done with, the film kicks into overdrive and doesn’t even begin to slow down until the final credits roll. That’s exactly what this film aims to provide and it delivers in excess (if that’s even possible – except for those of you who, you know, hate fun movies).
I’m not necessarily saying that, artistically speaking, Skyscraper is a great movie. In serving as an homage to those action films of decades gone by, the movie comes complete with many of the clichés and pitfalls of those films. The villains are hackneyed and uninteresting. And they’re also horrible shots, even with automatics. There is a lot of fire, but virtually no smoke. There are several instances of conveniently-timed dei ex machina. And, though suspension of disbelief is a necessity for this film and for others of its ilk, the final confrontation probably stretches it a bit too far – certainly farther than anything else in the movie (including that infamous jump from the poster which is, in fact, mathematically feasible. So sorry to disappoint you. Wait, no. No, I’m really not.) But nobody is coming to see this film for any of these things. So, even if the film isn’t great in all ways, it’s great in the ways that matter.
Another way in which the film is great is that it’s brought Neve Campbell back to movies! Campbell hasn’t done a theatrical film since 2015 and hasn’t done a high-profile film since 2011’s Scream 4. For anyone like me who experienced the Scream phenomenon in real-time, it’s great to see Campbell, again. In fact, her presence in this film might have actually been its biggest appeal for me, personally. Campbell had grown frustrated with studios trying to typecast her in horror films, and that’s why she stepped away. This certainly isn’t a horror film, but Campbell is an excellent choice to portray Sarah, who possesses similar intelligence, spirit, resourcefulness, and resiliency as Campbell’s iconic Sidney Prescott character. Welcome back, Neve! I hope you stay awhile!
Skyscraper is pure escapist entertainment – a high-octane eighties throwback that delivers on its every promise. For those who aren’t too determined to let the standard flaws that (admittedly too often) come with the genre get in the way, it’s easy to enjoy. Johnson and Campbell are both at ease in their respective wheelhouses and make it so very easy to engage with the action and the characters. Those with an aversion to heights – which includes me – might struggle with it, at times, but just suck it up. (I’ve never understood those who won’t see movies because they’re afraid of heights, clowns, ghosts, or whatever their poison might be, as seeing a movie about your fear is literally the safest way to confront it, kids.) And it’s not a comedy like Jumanji, which might limit its appeal to certain audiences, but hopefully not overwhelmingly so. Warts and all, Skyscraper isn’t a traditionally great movie, but it’s certainly a great time at the movies and will almost certainly make you forget your troubles and worry about the Sawyers, for a while, instead. Who can argue with that?
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