When you think of product placement, you might think of watches, cars, phones and laptops. You certainly would’t expect Skyscraper to be brought to you by something as mundane as duct tape, but it’s true. Duct tape is the true hero.
Let’s get one thing out of the way before we go any further (or a couple of things, actually). Yes, this is basically a mashup of Die Hard and The Towering Inferno; and no, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is not actually disabled and it doesn’t really matter because his disability is not the focus of this story. In fact he is shown as being as capable as any able bodied person. There’s not a hint of pity nor any real focus on his missing limb, which is entirely as it should be. It’s a wonderful step forward for the portrayal of a disabled person to be the hero of a movie like this, even if it is played by an entirely able bodied actor.
As mentioned above, Skyscraper is a mashup/homage to two of the greatest action films ever made. Johnson plays Will Sawyer, a former FBI agent who specialised in hostage rescue. Now he works as a safety assessor who has been called in to certify that the world’s tallest building – a Hong Kong skyscraper called “The Pearl” – is up to snuff and fit to be insured and opened to the public. It just so happens that his stamp of approval happens to coincide with a visit to the building by some very nasty people intent on mischief involving guns, explosives and a body count. To the film’s credit, it toys with your expectations a little to begin with, leaving any number of options on the table as to why these miscreants are there, who can be trusted and what the ultimate goal actually is.
It is also good to see our heroes being portrayed in a new light. We’ve moved beyond a time when these actors only portrayed unstoppable supermen with a special set of skills. There is Liam Neeson as an insurance salesman in The Commuter, a reluctant and somewhat out of shape hero. Dwayne Johnson is a man who, as he says, “put down his sword” 10 years ago and has not picked it up since. So, again, when it comes to the fighting, there’s a whole lot of him getting beaten up by men who still live and breathe this way of life. This is a far cry from Hercules or the Scorpion King, that’s for sure. It’s an interesting new take on these action heroes and I rather hope it continues. These men aren’t getting any younger, none of us are; so to see them be allowed to grow and change as we do helps us continue to relate to them.
Skyscraper also continues the growing trend of strong female characters. Sawyer’s wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) is every bit as capable as her husband and is not afraid to get her hands dirty or show up the men when the situation calls for it. There is also Xia (Hannah Quinlivan), a terrifyingly capable member of our group of villains who kills people as casually as you might flick a bug from your clothing. The women in this film are not to be trifled with.
Johnson has good chemistry here with Neve Campbell. Their little rituals add to their relationship, allowing us to accept them as a realistic, believable couple. Performances from Campbell, Johnson and Roland Moller (whom we recently saw alongside Liam Neeson in the aforementioned The Commuter) are all very solid, although it is a shame to see some typecasting slipping in. There is really no hope of a big twist if the actors cast as the bad guys are already well known for playing bad guys. Then it becomes a matter of the audience simply waiting for their “sudden, inevitable betrayal” to steal a phrase.
Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball, We’re the Millers) has brought us a perfectly competent action film. Set pieces are executed well, the sense of threat and danger is believable, the performances of his cast are all solid… but Skyscraper lacks that vital spark to lift it above those it is paying homage to. No new ground is being broken here. Kores Botha is no Hans Gruber and Will Sawyer is definitely no chief O’Hallorhan.