Skyscraper was directed and written by Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball, Central Intelligence) and stars Dwayne Johnson (Doom, Jungle Cruise), Roland Moller (Land of Mine, Blood Red Sky), Chin Han (Marco Polo, Mortal Kombat), Neve Campbell (Scream franchise, 54), Byron Mann (Altered Carbon, Street Fighter), Hannah Quinlivan (Skyfire, Moon River) and Pablo Schreiber (First Man, Halo). It’s about a security guard fighting his way through a flaming skyscraper to save his family from criminals.
The Plot: Thurber takes swaths of material from Die Hard and The Towering Inferno to make a blockbuster for the 21st century. While that’s not inherently a bad thing, Skyscraper feels too much like a pale imitation of both while avoiding the emotion of both.
Will (Johnson), along with his wife Sarah (Campbell) and kids, are in Hong Kong doing a security consultation for Zhao’s (Han) newly minted (and now tallest in the world) skyscraper, the Pearl, at the behest of his friend Ben (Schreiber). Zhao gives Will a tablet that lets him utilize the functions of the building to conduct his sweep, one that’s almost certainly going to fall into the wrong hands. Not long after meeting Zhao, intentions are revealed and terrorist Botha (Moller), with second lead henchman Xia (Quinlivan) and plenty of others, take over the Pearl, setting one of the floors on fire in the process.
Since he was out with Ben during the takeover, Will has to go to the building and work his way up to get to his family, who were being accommodated by Zhao while Will worked. This “takeover” is glossed over in less than a minute and the police, led by Inspector Wu (Mann) are on the scene before anything really happens, eliminating the tension that could’ve been added with a delay.
In a redundant move, the movie tries to add doses of the Fugitive by framing Will for the fire that isolates him from assistance when the villains could’ve just started the fire on the lower floors, negating this entirely. Though his family members are the main point of address, saving Zhao from Botha becomes part of the mission too.
Nothing in Skyscraper’s plot is new, and all of it has been done better by its predecessors. There are some attempts at shuffling the order of events from the template its influencers created, but they’re all semantic without being clever about it.
The Characters: Some hope was on the horizon thanks to the way the movie adds a hitch to its leading man’s physical ability, but that hope runs out quickly when the supporting characters are on screen.
Will’s introductory scene from 10 years ago shows him as part of an FBI hostage rescue team who at the time was trying to save a family from a man with a bomb vest. This didn’t go well and the blast took Will’s left leg off from below the knee, replaced now with a metal surrogate. Apart from a few brief moments, this doesn’t come into play like it should, as Will largely functions so well that it may as well not have been included. Apart from that, he’s a good dad and husband, but that’s it.
Botha had the opportunity to make a grander statement about the environmentally unfriendly skyscraper or the showiness that Zhao has in mind for it, but the movie doesn’t play that game, instead making him a glorified errand boy out to find records of trade dealings from his superiors. He’s smart enough, but without an interesting motivation or a personality to supplant it, he’s as interchangeable as the other characters.
Will’s family is substandard too. Sarah was the naval nurse that operated on Will, but apart from explaining her brief flash of hand-to-hand combat, the movie does nothing with her. The kids are only there to be put in danger as plot devices and one of them even has asthma, an overdone trait in its own right.
A kernel of an idea exists in Will’s handicap, but there’s nothing else worth noting about the characters in Skyscraper.
The Action: The Pearl could’ve been a gauntlet of different environments for Will to get through to reach his family, but Thurber was only focused on playing towards expectations, failing to do anything remarkable with the action.
From the start, even the action is as repetitive as the rest of the movie. That tablet that Will received from Zhao gets stolen from him by a parkouring goon, but Will accidentally took Zhao’s personal tablet with him, so that brief sequence is pointless. It’s handled decently and has a bit of flair thanks to the urban setting but is all too brief. Things look up for a short time when Will gets into a fight that utilizes the environment and his prosthetic leg. It’s a kitchen brawl with a smash-’em-up bent, throwing Will and the assailant into tables, using knives and blocking them with grill plates; but it’s the only one of its kind.
Melee material is in short supply, surprisingly so given Johnson’s background. During one stretch where Will reunites with Sarah and his kids, he finds them facing down a gunman, which should’ve been a sort of mini-boss fight, but the movie denies that throwing the man into a fire, not even played for laughs given the subversion of expectations. Gunfights are lacking too. There aren’t any for most of the runtime and the few that do exist are shot so generically and without any stakes that they’re instantly forgettable.
Despite one good brawl and a decent ending fight, Thurber doesn’t play with fire here. Literally, he uses the flames as a plot device without including it in the action, which desperately needed its own fingerprint.
The Technics: Cynicism is a feeling that can’t be avoided here. Skyscraper is a well-put-together movie from a technical standpoint, but there’s no soul here, just an idealized profit margin.
It’s a short enough movie at 102 minutes, thankfully not stretching itself out to upwards of 2 hours while barely having enough ideas for the current runtime; it’s paced well for what it is, getting to the admittedly mostly bad action set pieces in less than 20 minutes and allowing those to take up most of the movie.
The production design is the standout in Skyscraper. While a lot of the setting is obfuscated by flames, the work put into the Pearl itself is very good. Exterior shots of the building show a visually interesting modern futurist design ripe for varied action. The residential section looks homely and in accordance with the country the movie is set in, the floors devoted to greenery look appealing, and the business-oriented top floors are sparse but not underdeveloped. All of this blows the CGI, which ranges from bad to passable, out of the water.
Skyscraper does next to nothing with personality or even purpose. Its pleasures lie purely in production design, technical merits, and Campbell’s performance (everyone else seems checked out). So much so that I can’t even think of a good wrap-up joke… so this review is over, I guess.