Dwayne Johnson in SKYSCRAPER demonstrates once again just how far charisma can go. Despite making somewhere around eight movies a year, the number of movies he makes that are “good” are… limited. JUMANJI was a surprise blast, any of the FAST AND FURIOUS movies he has been in are great popcorn fodder, and CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE has its defenders. On the other hand, we have HERCULES, SAN ANDREAS, RAMPAGE, and, oof, BAYWATCH. Nonetheless, we still seemingly all love him. But will we love him in still love him in SKYSCRAPER?

SKYSCRAPER: Sarah Sawyer
Neve Campbell surveys the perimeter in SKYSCRAPER. Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

The Idea Behind SKYSCRAPER

While working as an FBI agent, Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) ends up in a bomb blast. The explosion results in the need to amputate his left lower leg. It also costs him his taste for being a gun-toting member of the law enforcement community. However, he gains the love of his life in his trauma surgeon, Sarah (Neve Campbell). They marry, have two kids, and Will starts a security troubleshooting business.

He has come to Hong Kong at the behest of Ben (Pablo Schreiber), a former fellow agent. Ben works for Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han), the entrepreneur that has conceived of and bankrolled the building of The Pearl. The Pearl is the largest freestanding structure in the world and ready to open its top floors to residents. However, in order to open, The Pearl needs insurance. In order to get that, they need Will to sign off on their security systems including their fire suppression structure.

However, Zhao, apparently, upset the wrong people when making The Pearl. Now, they’ve come to destroy his building and get something he has that they want. Unfortunately, Will’s family accidentally comes home too early and end up trapped in the building as the baddies plot begins.

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The Writing

Writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber gets the “adorable as can be” family vibe out the gate and most of the movie floats along on those personalities from there. This is not the kind of film that is interested in building deeply nuanced characters, so getting us to like the heroes is enough, and it does that with efficiency.

Otherwise, nearly everything is fairly standard action movie fare. There is an obvious betrayal or two, some bad guys who talk when they should shoot, a shadowy business type who turns out to be a decent guy, and that sort of thing.

I will say that while she is not particularly three dimensional, the script does give Sarah a fair amount to do besides be the maiden in distress. It’s just a little something, but it is nice to see.

SKYSCRAPER: Will Sawyer
Dwayne Johnson gets serious in a scene from SKYSCRAPER. Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Casting The Leads of SKYSCRAPER

Adhering to expectations, Johnson is a charisma machine.

Additionally, his physicality remains as impressive in his late 40s as it did when he first made his big move to film 15 years ago. I could argue he’s almost too good, making things seem too easy. Beyond a few moments that explicitly note his prosthetic limb, he seems nearly invulnerable.

However, they cast him as a veteran and former FBI agent, so I don’t think the movie was much concerned with making him an everyman type.

That said, there is a scene with Will and his daughter Georgia (McKenna Roberts) that might be the best Johnson has done with understated emotional work. The scene as a whole is an overblown spectacle, but the way he centers it by being both quiet and, somehow, small is worth noting.

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Casting the Rest of the SKYSCRAPER Call Sheet

It’s great to see Neve Campbell in big movie. Also, as mentioned above, it is nice they gave her some action scenes. She fights; she rescues. She escapes certain death; heck, she kinda saves the day more than her husband. She’s still the supporting character here, but I appreciate the script giving her more to do than scream and hope.

Roland Møller’s band of villains come off as a largely generic band of goons. Only Hannah Quinlivan acquits herself well with an apathetic stillness that catches your eye. She commits these acts of murder and terrorism with the same kind of emotional indifference one would expect from doing a grocery run when you have nothing else to do that day and the store is nearly empty.

Han is, in many ways, fulfilling a double stereotype — shady business man, stoic Asian — but makes it work. I like the air of competence he gives this titan of industry.

SKYSCRAPER: Xia
Hannah Quinlivan does not screw around in SKYSCRAPER. Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Filming

With SKYSCRAPER, Marshall Thurber completes his transition from comedy-action director to a fully-fledged action director. He knows how to stage a scene and utilizes the dizzying heights of The Pearl extremely well. Still, he does sometimes feel undone by his star. Johnson, as noted above, is so gifted that it is hard to buy him in danger, even hanging upside down. My heart rate jumped now and then but that had almost everything to do with my mild issues with heights and almost nothing to do with buying into the on-screen peril.

To harp upon my pet issue a little, the geography further undermines the feeling of being trapped. The building is so massive. The space is so expansive that unless you can literally see the fire on-screen, the movie feels relatively dormant. It’s not that Marshall Thurber is bad at giving us a sense of space; the space is just too big. It is one of those times that being good at defining the geography of the setting works against the picture.

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That’s a Wrap

SKYSCRAPER is fine. In August in the middle of the fourth heat wave of the year, it would have been a perfect release. You could suck up that air conditioning and let your overheated brain enjoy the charisma and pretty images. In mid-July, however, especially after several strong summer releases in a row, it feels like less. It’s a generic actioner told with some skill. It delivers a thrill or two, perhaps a chuckle, but you’ll have forgotten three minutes after you leave the multiplex.

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