With a somewhat refreshing simplicity at its core and a generously quick pace, Skyscraper is as big and stupid as its titular building, and similarly just about avoids major disaster.
The Rock’s box office pull has seemed undeniable in recent months, propping up the mediocre Jumanji and Rampage. In Skyscraper he is Will Sawyer, retired hostage rescuer and family man. In a genuinely surprising twist, Dwayne Johnson’s sheer scale makes even the role of security consultant feel somehow preposterous – this man so patently works out for 8 hours a day that any other occupation feels disingenuous.
He has been hired to rubber-stamp the opening of The Pearl, a fictional needle in Hong Kong, the brainchild of The Dark Knight veteran Chin Han’s oddly Machiavellian-seeming billionaire Zhao Long Ji. In a barefaced confluence of plot from Die Hard and The Towering Inferno, nasty-looking henchmen invade the building, setting a major fire and then ensuring that the tech meant to stop it is shut down. The fire spreads, and only Will seems capable of stopping it, with motivation in the form of his trapped family (Neve Campbell and some acceptably un-distracting child actors).
The plotting is predictably banal, with foreshadowing in the first ten minutes that feels closer to a contents page of developments to come. Will lost a leg at the knee before he left law enforcement, a disability that is refreshingly secondary to his character traits, although consequently leans towards feeling slightly surplus to requirements. Indeed, much of the characterisation lavished by screenwriter and director Rawson Marshall Thurber comes to feel largely pointless, as big explosions, silly jumps and absurd decisions become the film’s focus.
This action is executed solidly, with Johnson’s improbable bulk coming into its own, straining to raise him into windows, brace wobbly bridges and climb wobbly towers. It is at times even a threat to him in itself, as he tries to edge back from precipices. By the point when he’s hustling along a crane towards a trailer-bait leap of faith, the credibility of his physicality has ceased to be an issue – Skyscraper has no truck with physics or logic and is probably the better for it.
That isn’t to say that this is some sort of simple but artful masterpiece of action, sadly, with flaws keeping the film firmly in the ‘fun but clearly bad’ bracket. A supporting cast of Chinese characters is underused and perhaps cynically placed, and the film’s euro-goon antagonists are drastically forgettable. Dialogue is largely laughable but rarely comic, and the pre-fire sections are tiresome, expecting CGI money shots of a building to sustain audiences through the tedium of the movie’s setup.
It’s hard to offer constructive criticism of a film that so clearly knows its own limits. The Rock is charming, though, and just about piggybacks his weakling viewers like vulnerable children through this forgettable piece of silliness.