How do you make a figure as imposing and mythical-seeming as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson seem human and vulnerable? Skyscraper certainly tries its best: as former soldier, FBI agent Will Sawyer, Johnson is tasked with taking on an army of bad guys with little more than his fists, his wits, and a roll of duct tape.
Left with a prosthetic leg after a nightmare hostage situation years earlier, Will’s left his gun-wielding days behind him and embarked on a new career as a security specialist. Stationed in Hong Kong, Will’s given the task of assessing the safety of a new, 3,500 foot high building that dominates the skyline. Built by business magnate Zhao Min Zhi (Chin Han), it’s a high-tech luxury apartment and office block with state-of-the-art fire-control systems and – in a curious flourish – a huge spherical viewing platform at the top which provides a 360-degree view of the island.
Then some villains from Europe attack, and Skyscraper basically becomes Die Hard – with a dash of Panic Room, Towering Inferno and, oddly, Enter The Dragon thrown in for good measure.
Before Will can do very much, there’s a fire on the 96th floor, his ex-army wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and two kids are trapped inside, and there are about a dozen goons armed with machine guns and grenades scattered about in various corridors and control rooms.
With its over-the-top action heroics played with an admirably straight face, Skyscraper could almost be a sequel to San Andreas – the 2015 Johnson vehicle that saw him save his family from a city-levelling act of god. Although the action star plays a different character with a different set of skills here, the formula’s essentially the same: he gets to play a resourceful tough guy capable of punching a car in half, but really, he just wants to give his family a big bear hug.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with this, and director Rawson Marshall Thurber (previously best known as the director of comedies like Dodgeball and Central Intelligence) keeps things ticking along with an entertaining urgency. All the staples of a 90s action thriller can be found here: there’s a high-kicking villainess in shiny black attire; a computer nerd who can hack into seemingly anything, and a central villain who whispers threats in a hoarse European accent.
Twists and turns occur with metronomic timing, and if you’ve seen enough of these kinds of movies, then you’ll probably be able to guess the pay-offs by watching the set-ups. As ever, though, Johnson makes for a charismatic and likeable guide through the action set-pieces, and Thurber (who writes as well as directs) finds novel uses for everything from old statues to bits of string to spare parts hurriedly stripped from a gas oven.
Thurber’s direction of those action set-pieces is more workmanlike than flashy and eye-catching – maybe it’s the Hong Kong setting, but we couldn’t help wondering what this would’ve looked like had it been directed by John Woo in his prime. And by the mid-point, it becomes apparent that there are really only so many ways you can shoot an actor dangling from a girder above a curtain of computer-generated fire.
The cast has an uncanny valley feel, too: the bad guy, played by Roland Moller, is a bland collection of army fatigues and utility belts who could’ve phased in from a Call Of Duty game. Pablo Schreiber has little to do as one of Will’s friends from his FBI days, and the normally wonderful Noah Taylor puts in a frankly bizarre performance as one of Zhao Min Zhi’s corporate drones.
What lifts Skyscraper as a cinematic experience, though, is Steve Jablonsky’s music – a honking, primal bark of a score full of Dark Knight-style portent – and some truly barnstorming sound design. We may not truly believe that Johnson and his family are about to fall into a fiery oblivion, but the sonic backwash will likely have audiences cowering in their seats.
There’s never a sense that anyone involved has stretched beyond the goal of making a big, dumb popcorn movie, and so that’s precisely what you get with Skyscraper. In all likelihood, you’ll have forgotten everything that happens within hours of seeing it, but that doesn’t mean that Johnson’s latest action banquet doesn’t entertain in the moment.
Like its hero, Skyscraper’s big, brawny, earnest – and strapped together with generous helpings of duct tape.
Skyscraper is out in UK cinemas on the 12th July.