IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 10 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader and U.S. war veteran Will Sawyer loses one of his legs during an attempt to rescue a mother and child from their bomb and gun wielding dad. Fitted with a prosthetic leg which keeps his full mobility, he switches to checking security in skyscrapers. His latest job is to go to Hong Kong and check The Pearl, which at 3500 feet is now the world’s tallest building. However, terrorist kingpin Kores Botha and his gang of mercenaries ignite the 96th floor, blocking access to all higher floors, causing an impenetrable fire line cutting off all rescue operations, and knocking out the computer controlled advanced fire extinguishing hardware. Using security information on a tablet they steal from Sawyer, the terrorists frame Sawyer as the culprit, but Sawyer, whose family is trapped on the floors directly above the blazing fire, breaks free from the police and heads for the building….
Every time I see a Dwayne Johnson film I wonder why this very bland, uninteresting and limited actor is so popular – I mean he’s now the most top paid star in Hollywood and is one of the few actors who can open a film with just his name – though of course he chooses his projects well too, clearly knowing what will attract today’s ADD-suffering younger teenagers who will just go back on their phones if something exciting hasn’t happened for five minutes or a camera shot lasts more than five seconds. But then as I walked home from seeing Skyscraper my mind was consumed with questions. Can a person leap around 30 feet from a crane into a broken window that’s around the same height? Can someone hold a steel bridge together with just his bare hands for about five minutes? Is duct tape a good enough adhesive to enable you to climb up and down parts of a tall building? Who the hell puts an important building control panel in the middle of a giant circulation fan and why? Why do English letters appear on just about everything in Hong Kong from uniforms to computer screens to instructions for operating a crane. What was the exact function of the modern version [TVs that rise out of the floor that you can switch to show the outside and make it look like you’re floating in midair] of the old hall of mirrors room except to provide a setting for yet another The Lady From Shanghai-style climax? Why? – o never nind, more to the point, why am I even bothering to think about all this?
Even from the posters it seems that Skyscraper is going to be basically a cross between The Towering Inferno and Die Hard, and that’s pretty much what you get, though unsurprisingly lacking much of the quality of those two classics. Played at top speed so that no scene featuring mere dialogue lasts more than a minute, once it gets going it’s little more then one thrill scene after another, and with such a plethora of such moments some of them do come off, such as one of the most genuinely nerve-wracking plank walking bits in ages. Despite some of the CGI looking distinctly fake and blurry – most notably the later shots of part of the building on fire where it seem like we’re watching a cartoon- the performers do their best to sell the fact that they’re mostly acting in front of green screen, and despite what I said earlier, I include Johnson in this. In fact, he’s better performing in front of nothing then performing in front of things that are actually there.
After a rather tense opening in which a crazed father menaces his wife and kid before blowing up himself, the house and probably several other people as well as one of our hero’s legs, Will Sawyer becomes a security expert, but let’s stop right here for a bit because his new prosthetic leg deserves some special mention. Sometimes Walter does hobble, but he can also run fairly smoothly and engage in athletic fights with bad guys. Sometimes the leg almost falls off, but seems incredibly secure when he’s dangling from the leg from a great height. It’s if screenwriter and also director Rawson Marshall Thunder [reuniting with Johnson from Central Intelligence] decided to give Johnson a handicap in a vain attempt to give him some vulnerability but then realised that in doing so they boxed themselves into a corner so opted to forget about it at times, while Johnson just doesn’t seem to have a clue. It’s a good example of the sheer idiocy that pervades this film, idiocy that you can certainly laugh at and accept for a while because the film isn’t really trying to take itself very seriously anyway, but which eventually becomes annoying and which weakens involvement in what’s taking place on screen.
So the Chinese have managed to build not just the tallest but also it seems the most sophisticated building in the world, and one thing I’ll say is that visually it’s quite impressive, from both the outside and inside where some unusual choices have been made, production designer Jim Bissell and his team having actually based some of what you see on Chinese legends. Sawyer has to check the building out while his wife Sarah and two children Georgia and Henry go to the zoo, after which they will stay at The Pearl until hubby is finished. Sawyer is entrusted with a tablet that contains all the security information of the building and which only responds to facial recognition. However, he’s suddenly knocked down and the tablet stolen, then finds his friend Ben pointing a gun at him. The first of the film’s several fight scenes follows and it’s easily the best, with a real ferocity about it and quite well choreographed, though sadly Thunder resorts to ugly ‘shakycam’ in these scenes. This odious and illogical technique is something that we’ve seen a bit less of of late then we used to, and that’s just great, but we still get some stupid filmmakers who think that making the viewer feel sick and not letting them be able to see what’s going on properly is the way forward. I hear that Escape Plan 2 is full of it, so I think I’m going to save that one for home viewing even though I believe wholeheartedly in the cinema experience over watching something on a TV or worse. Rawson doesn’t employ it too often though, so we can still enjoy many of the more ridiculous highlights, such as amputee Sawyer climbing up over a hundred stories of steps on the crane in what seems like under a minute with great ease and no pausing for breath at the top.
Things soon settle down into the script continually finding ways for Sawyer to jump, dangle and avoid things,while sometimes dispatching the odd bad guy. Usually his family is also in danger, though his son’s asthma isn’t used as much as you’d expect. The most notable of the array of villains is Xia, who dresses like Selene from the Underworld films and calmly strides down a street which is playing host to a gun battle between cops and terrorists while bullets fly around her. Hannah Quinlivan doesn’t really get enough screen time, but she does get to have a fight inside a car with Neve Campbell as Sarah. It’s rather short but well done for a Hollywood production. It’s nice to see Campbell back in a major movie too and her character is more pro-active than the usual wife role. She’s even far cleverer than the Hong Kong police in one silly scene. As for our hero, the biggest problem is that, after that brawl I described earlier, it never seems like he may lose control. We all like a hero who’s calm under pressure, but a film like Skyscraper would have really benefited from Sawyer actually giving the impression that he’s under threat or at least stress at times. Even John McClane had his moments, but then again Bruce Willis actually had a character to play too, something which Skyscraper especially reminds you of when Sawyer has to do rather familiar things like perform some self-surgery or tie something around himself in order to dangle off the building.
A few laughs of the intended kind work though hamper the suspense of the afore-mentioned climax, while I can’t tell if one of the final lines of dialogue being very similar to the closing line of San Andreas was intended to create a chuckle in the viewer or not. And it’s all set to as bland a musical score as one can imagine from the typically poor Steve Jablonsky, with no attempt to create something musically interesting or distinctive, just the usual Remote Control tedium. Themes are childishly simple and dramatic problems are solved by throwing a load of drums at them. Twenty years ago it would have been embarrassing to have a major motion picture with a score like this in it; today it’s all too frequent. Then again, one can almost understand the composer for not being inspired by Skyscraper. It certainly has its truly exciting moments, though I will say that as an acrophobia sufferer I probably found more of them to be genuinely vertiginous then people who aren’t will. It does provide plenty of the dumb fun you’d, but after a while even dumb fun can annoy without the right handling and here there’s just a lack of conviction. They really did used to do this sort of thing much better in the ‘80’s – or ’70’s or ’90’s….