Skyscraper

Skyscraper is Dwayne Johnson’s new action movie. For most people, that’s enough to know if you’re interested. The (former) Rock has become almost a brand unto himself. Here’s why this one deserves your attention.

The Past

Here is a list of the big summer movies from 1996. This was my formative year of Hollywood blockbusters. I graduated high school and my first job was at a local theater.

Independence Day, The Rock, Twister, The Nutty Professor, The Cable Guy, Mission: Impossible, The Frighteners, Dragonheart, Eraser, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Escape from L.A. Along with smaller budget horror, comedy, and kids’ movies of course.

What do you notice about this list? ZERO comic book movies. One TV show adaptation (The Mission: Impossible movies were not yet a franchise), one remake of a famous book, and one sequel to a 15-year old movie. Most of the big films were original ideas, written for the big screen–not adapted. They weren’t all winners, but at least they were something new to see!

The Present

Now here are the big movies of summer 2018:

Avengers 3, Deadpool 2, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Ocean’s 8, Incredibles 2, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, The First Purge, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Hotel Transylvania 3, Equalizer 2, Mamma Mia! Here we go Again, and Mission: Impossible-Fallout. Every single one of these is a sequel/adaptation/spin-off, etc. of something else. Nothing is new in risk-averse Hollywood.

Finally getting to my point, I’m not here to complain about the lack of originality. I’m here to praise the one truly original blockbuster this summer: Skyscraper. (Side note: for the sake of this review, let’s acknowledge I mean “original” as in “not adapted from an existing property.”  We all know Skyscraper is not “original” as in “never been done before.”)

The Skyscraper

If you had to sum up Skyscraper in one pithy quote, it’s like a remake of Die Hard on steroids. The tallest building in the world is about to open in Hong Kong. It’s over 200 stories tall and includes a waterfall, garden, exterior wind turbines, and the “8th Wonder of the World” at the top. Dwayne Johnson is an ex-military security expert brought in with his family to give the final sign-off. Naturally, terrorists try to destroy it for some evil reason, and Dwayne does what he does best to rescue his family from the Towering Inferno (ahem).

If it sounds a little generic, maybe it is. However, the execution here is great. I loved the new Avengers, but the fact is that nobody knows what superheroes and alien planets look like in person, so we can’t fairly evaluate how realistic they are. Everybody knows what buildings and fire look like, so the special effects here are more impressive because you can compare them to what you know to be true. For the life of me, I can’t believe there’s not a 200-story tower in Hong Kong right now. This stuff looks real!

The interior scenes are almost equally impressive. Many of them are real sets, and the style on display is like the swankiest Vegas hotel ever built. Taken together, this is architecture porn of the highest level, and I was genuinely sad when the bad guys started blowing up this beautiful fake building.

The Characters

Neve Campbell plays the wife, taking care of the kids for most of the movie. And guess what? Here is a chance to use the word original literally. She is not a stereotype from other action movies. She makes no stupid decisions, she is not a damsel in distress, and she does everything smartly and capably. She plays an important role throughout and is a great example of how to treat secondary characters, let alone women in film.

In another example of modern sensibilities, Dwayne Johnson’s character is an amputee. He lost his left leg below the knee in the military service. It’s acknowledge, but never made a big deal of. There’s no speech about how he’s had to overcome so much adversity. It’s simply part of the character. Although the detachable leg does feature prominently in a couple of action scenes, and Dwayne is perhaps a bit too mobile for someone with one leg, it’s still a great effort at writing more diversity into characters.

The villain was not an actor I recognized, but he was solid as the bad guy, with a Jean Reno vibe. This was a relief after what I felt was a very subpar villain performance by the C-list actor who played the military commander in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. There are very few secondary characters though. It’s mostly a one-man show, and if you’ve only got one man, it’s hard to find one better suited to carry a movie like this than The Rock.

My one criticism is that the ending doesn’t quite work as well as it should. It stretches logic a bit too far, and (personal pet peeve) doesn’t deliver enough comeuppance.  However, it’s good enough and everything leading up to it is top-notch.

The Future

Studios’ hunger for franchise shows no sign of abating. Who knows how much longer they will risk big budgets on summer action films that don’t already have a built-in fanbase? Movies like Skyscraper are already the exception. I hope they don’t become extinct. If you’re tired of spandex and movies with numbers in their titles, give this a shot.  Hell, even if you like those but just want to meet some new characters and support original scripts, this is a fun one.

Ryan S. Davis

I love board games, thrill rides and travel. I'm happy to watch and review all kinds of movies, from mainstream blockbusters to art house indies. As a Warner Bros. employee, I'm privileged with a glimpse of Hollywood many don't see, but my opinions here are my own and not representative of the company.

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