Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Screenplay: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Møller, Noah Taylor, Byron Mann, Pablo Schreiber, Hannah Quinlivan
Runtime: 102 Minutes
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson continues his hot streak of massively entertaining, mass-market blockbusters with Skyscraper, a highly derivative but none the less fun piece of popcorn entertainment that sees Johnson once against facing up against a disaster that mashes up the premises of Die Hard and The Towering Inferno into a serviceable whole that mostly cuts the fat from the narrative as a barebones 90-minute ride of digital spectacle.
He’s very good here, once again channelling enough charisma and physicality into the role as possible that further pumps up his appeal as a rescuer tipping over rubble and lifting heavy obstacles. He’s not even positioned as the everyman à la John McClane, but a highly motivated former FBI agent and amputee who has to work his way through the burning tower using duct tape, rope and his own prosthetic leg to rescue his wife (Neve Campbell) and children who are trapped on the residential floors of the building.
The building itself, known as “The Pearl”, is a hyper-advanced building that basically acts as a micro-city and towers above the Hong Kong skyline as the tallest manmade structure ever built. So obviously it draws the intentions of terrorists with their own motivations, who start a fire as a distraction for their own plans with architect played by Chin Han.
There isn’t really a great deal to say about the film as a narrative because it’s so cut and dry in a particular mould as to accentuate its main action star, the set pieces and a cast consisting of a largely Asian supporting cast of performers. We’re going to end up seeing blockbusters like this a lot more in the future with Hollywood’s continuing efforts to appeal to eastern markets.
But it’s something that mostly pays off in an interesting way, considering how it places its Asian cast in the roles of perfectly capable and efficient emergency service personnel who would probably handle the problem well enough on their own were the film not focusing on placing the white visitor from another country at the centre of it. The stand out really being Taiwanese-Australian actress Hannah Quinlivan as secondary antagonist Xia, who feels like she should be in a much better movie than this, and at least diverts attention away from the shockingly boring main antagonist played by Danish actor Roland Møller.
It’s a detriment really that there isn’t more going on beyond the premise and playout itself, moving so fast that it’s a little hard to get emotionally invested especially in its brisk first act. But the screenplay lays out the structure and resolves of its climax early on through on-the-nose exposition that will be obvious but fun for genre fans to check off as they come into play.
This is the first straight action film written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber who’s usually worked in comedies – most notably Dodgeball and Central Intelligence – but he handles the big set-pieces well enough and seems to be having fun with The Rock on hand to charge his way through the conflict with earnest self-control.
Skyscraper is a fun distraction of a picture, even if it doesn’t feel quite as violently entertaining as Johnson's other action outing with Rampage earlier this year. It’s generally well-staged and enjoyable even amongst the digitised clutter even if it's in no way memorable or all that meaningful beyond a position as a reoccurring cultural artefact of western media catering to eastern audiences.