Movie Leftovers: Skyscraper.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we empty our fridge of Movie Leftovers – films we missed reviewing before they left theaters.
The end of the year fast approaches, and Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Having stocked up on recent movies thanks to 14 hours in an airplane, we decided it was time to clear our plates. This month we’re going to devote to all of the films of 2018 that caught our eye – for good or ill – but that we didn’t get a chance to review during their theatrical runs. Since we’ll soon be picking the best and worst films of the year, it’s high time we checked off some of the entries on our Most and Least anticipated films of the year lists.
Our first leftover comes from the one man movie studio, The Rock. Not only did Dwayne star in the action thriller Skyscraper, he produced it as well. The dude seriously does not know the concept of down time. I had initially wrote this one off as a just another popcorn blockbuster from Mr. Johnson, of which he makes six or seven a month. I should have known better than to bet against The Rock. I dedicated one 7 hour flight to just action movies I’d missed, and Skyscraper was hands down the best of the bunch.
Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) is a veteran who lost his leg during a hostage situation that literally blew up in his face. Haunted by the incident, he has retired from military service and gone into business as a safety consultant for construction projects. He gets a plum contract from an old comrade: do a quick safety inspection of the tallest building in the world before it opens to the public. He even gets to bring his wife (Neve Campbell) and kids along to the ritzy palace and to meet the reclusive tech genius, Zhao (Chin Han), who created it. Things go sideways when Zhao’s enemies target the building and set it ablaze with Zhao – and Sawyer’s family – inside. Will must break into the building he helped make impregnable and brave the towering inferno to save his family.
Despite director Rawson Marshall Thurber not having made a thriller before, he pitches a gem here. The film is breathlessly paced without forgoing character development, backstory, and world building. Will Sawyer is a dynamic and approachable action hero, who feels vulnerable and capable at once. Since we get to bond with him early and see his family dynamic (helped by a good performance by Neve Campbell), there are sufficient stakes to sell all of the action pieces and death defying stunts that come hot and heavy once the building is on fire.
I wasn’t sure how well the film would pull off making The Rock an amputee, but the script takes time to make it more than a gimmick and the CG is hardly noticeable. Thurber has a knack for making everything in his film do double duty, so that it adds to the action and to the character development in one stroke.
Skyscraper is mostly smart about being an action thriller, but does indulge a few silly decisions. The pinnacle of the tower, Zhao’s big tech coup de grace, is a flimsy plot excuse to make the climax more interesting. It’s a hall of mirrors that has no function other than to make for a showy finale, and it’s blatantly obvious it only exists in the story to allow some fancy camera work. Likewise, Hannah Quinlivan plays a baddy with virtually no dialogue and backstory, existing only to set up the requisite cat fight with Neve Campbell.
Finally, the design of the tower itself seems like it was created by a movie script writer and not an architect. Vital access points perch precariously over whirling fan blades…instead of in a frumpy security office as would happen in EVERY REAL BUILDING. I felt a little like Sigourney Weaver’s character in Galaxy Quest, wondering aloud in exasperation why the hell anyone would install people-crushing pistons on the way to the central computer.
Fire It Up.
Silliness and action movie tropes aside, Skyscraper was an unexpectedly good film. The protagonists are written well and fleshed out, and given good performances by Campbell and Johnson. They’re remarkably down to earth people who are likable and grounded, despite the fact that we witness them doing superhuman feats. Lots of movies try to make The Rock into an every-man instead of the demi-god he actually is in real life, and I found Will Sawyer to be one of his most relatable roles.
The film moves briskly and coherently. Thurber stokes the tension by adding increasingly dangerous stunts in a manner that rarely feels forced, and the script does a good job of making the challenges and their solutions plausible. Sure, Sawyer pulls off feats worthy of Hercules or Spider-Man, but the writing and The Rock manage to sell it. It’s not quite going for the same degree of gritty realism as Die Hard, but it doesn’t feel like a super hero flick either.
Skyscraper is a good action thriller, delivering on the action and thrills in good measure. It’s not high art, but it’s not mindless like many summer action flicks are. For a movie about an amputee scaling the world’s tallest building while it’s on fire and full of terrorists, it feels remarkably grounded. Thurber and Johnson teamed up before on Central Intelligence, and the pair will collaborate again in 2020 on a film called Red Notice. After my time with Skyscraper, I’m looking forward to seeing if they can keep the winning streak alive.