You know when Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock, is involved with a movie, that it’s going to be an over the top throwback to some of the cheesiest films of the ’80s and ’90s. However, Dwayne’s on-screen presence and the films focus on full-on action and lighthearted moments usually make the films mindless fun. Skyscraper is this description placed into a mash-up of Die Hard and The Towering Inferno for the under 12’s. Fun, not quite what I was hoping for, but interestingly unique in its own silly way.
The disasters faced
A corrupt organisation, self-aware fire systems being turned off, a 225 story building with a giant viewing pearl on top (was that ever going to go well?!) being turned into a giant chimney and more device monitors than you can shake a fire extinguisher at. Oh and lots and lots of hanging around by a thread…or a leg…onto your leg.
To give Skyscraper its due, it does a few really interesting things from the outset. Our main character Will is an amputee. With his prosthetic leg (after a bombing incident went wrong) now fitted, he is rebuilding his life with his family in a new 225 story building in Hong Kong as a security and safety manager. Just before its public launch criminals take over, start a fire and orchestrate it so that the entire skyscraper is a giant chimney, filtering the fire up to the owners club up top. You see, he has a lot of information on this dodgy organisation and they want it back so they can continue to reign supreme. With the building going up in flames, Will’s wife and children are also trapped inside and have to go up the building in a race against the fire – whilst Will himself is trying to break in and save them. Who’ll outrun the fire.. or the criminals?
Why is it worth watching?
Skyscraper has a lot going on. It’s part of a selection of new types of movies that see Hollywood and Asian markets collaborate with slightly awkward billing of Western people in the main roles and Asian actors playing the supporting cast. Thankfully both sides of the pond feature characters on the good and bad sides. That aside, the acting and general set up of Skyscraper is rewarding and fun to watch unfold. Early on there is a lot to enjoy and discover about the Skyscraper itself – like The Towering Inferno, Die Hard and The Tower which came before, the building itself is a character and has a lot to offer which continues to surprise and innovate. The fire doesn’t take long to start and whilst The Rock gets the lions share of the stunts and big sequences, some of the best bits of the film is simply watching his family trying to climb up and escape. I had hoped for more of that but the sequences we got were fun and entertaining.
If anything Skyscraper has too much going on. A common trait these days in films is that one peril isn’t enough – but here the fire itself could have sustained my interest and entertainment had their been more characters involved. As its just a family of four, Zhao the owner and some periphery baddies in the mix – it lacks that ‘who will survive’ issue that plagues low budget disaster movies where you know the family will survive anyway so your just watching the sidelined characters get bumped off. There is a whole section going on outside the skyscraper with badass shot Xia that feels like a different movie – it’s excess means that things jump about or aren’t laboured on for long enough to have much of an emotional effect.
That being said, the fast pace means that action sequences fly at you at pace and to be fair to Skyscraper, that’s what it offers to its audience from the get-go. Set pieces are impressive and never more than a few minutes apart. This film is the definition of ‘unplug your brain to enjoy’ and you’ll get so much more out of it if you do. Don’t expect character development – expect MORE FLAMES! Is that a bad thing? Hell no – so long as you know that from the outset.
The film is also a hybrid of homages and nods to other films. The Towering Inferno and Die Hard are the two that stick out but the film also comes from the school of Cliffhanger, Walking the Wire and any other film that enjoys dangling people from a height. Often sections or sequences are borrowed from other films and given a Skyscraper twist and that’s fine but often its when the film has its own identity that it gives its best moments. It made me think what would happen if the same crew got together to create an entirely unique premise with full conviction. Borrowing from others and respectful nodding is fine – blatant ripoffs are not. This film thankfully is respectful for the majority of the film.
One last thing I wanted to mention here was some of the ingenious uses of a prosthetic leg when in danger, but also the nuanced movement and behaviour of Dwayne Johnson to portray an amputees movements and actions. It’s subtle but really helps. I was however slightly sad that at no point did he spank anyone round the head with his leg. I was waiting for it!
The building itself looks superb and there’s a lot of on-screen user interface shots in the film that looks quite cool. I would visit that skyscraper and be suitably impressed with its gardens and pearls in the sky. The flames and fire effects are a mixture of practical effects which look great and CGI which looks less so. The issue here is that its a mixture of a Hollywood and Asian palette and has a different artistic imprint and when you flip between them it makes the CGI explosions look coloured too orangey and cartoon-like. It still looks impressive but your eyes just need to adjust to it.
In terms of development, everyone is pretty much one dimensional but they all play their roles well. The family is close nit and I really like that Sarah (Neve Campbell) is quite happy to get physical and has some action of her own to do. The kids are underplayed here but both act well under peril. Chin Han portrays Zhao really interestingly because you are never really quite sure where on the fence he sits and the robotic assassin Xia (Hannah Quinlivian) is so stereotypical Die Hard baddie material it made me laugh but in a good way. I found the main villain Kores a bit underwhelming although I did smile when he literally becomes discount Hans Gruber by the end and then it all made sense.
‘If you can’t fix it with Duct Tape then you aren’t using enough Duct Tape!’ Will Sawyer
Three memorable moments
- Will hanging outside of the building clinging onto his own prosthetic leg to survive
- The gardens fire sequence in its entirety
- That jump back into the building and some of the cinematic shots of the climb up
The obligatory weird moment
The entire film has a weird fascination with Duct Tape. I hope it was a product placement or that was a missed opportunity! Aside from that, in the deleted scenes an entire side story involving a characters death and replacement is removed from the film which makes no sense in itself, but also makes Mr Peirce’s character in the film really questionable. Surely people would have noticed he sounded or looked different?!
The drinking game
Each time the English character of Mr Peirce speaks and you want to punch him in the face. He is the definition of everything I hate about pushy businessmen who think the world owes them.
Skyscraper is fun, empty brain wide-eyed cinema at its heart. Whilst it spends time borrowing ideas from other films (The Towering Inferno and Die Hard I’m looking at you) and then pulling them off with less conviction, it shines best when it does its own thing. There is plenty to like and enjoy here if you just go with it. One of the better recent big-budget disaster movies in the last couple of years.
Rating: 3.5 / Good+
If you liked Skyscraper then you may like…
- The Towering Inferno (which this film takes set pieces from)
- The Tower (A Korean inspired tall building fire which has spectacle and drama)
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