Come on, Ethan Hunt – what was so great about climbing a few storeys up the Burj Khalifa with those fancy high-tech spy-issue gloves? (Even if one of them did malfunction along the way.)
Try doing it with just duct tape wrapped around your hands – and with only one leg.
Yes, Dwayne Johnson outdoes Tom Cruise’s wild cinematic stunts by going even higher over the top on an implausible mission of his own: rescuing his family from a burning 1,067-metre-tall highrise and a bunch of nasty criminals.
But first, a quick rewind to establish the stakes.
After losing a leg when a hostage situation goes bad, war veteran/FBI agent/hostage rescue team leader Will Sawyer (Johnson) marries Sarah (Neve Campbell), the trauma surgeon who saves his life, and they start a family.
It’s a match made in heaven, or maybe ShondaLand, because Sarah is no damsel in distress when it comes to crisis situations – as she proves time and again during the movie.
Sure, she is a bit clueless when it comes to technology, but that serves as an important plot point/punchline in a movie chock full of contrivances that all turn out to have some key “role” to play further ahead.
Fast-forward a few years from their fateful meeting in the ER. Will is now a security consultant and he has just landed a career-making gig: assessing the safety of the planet’s tallest skyscraper The Pearl, a 1km-tall structure in Hong Kong built by tech magnate Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han).
It is such a towering structure (with a pretty cool design, it must be said) that it could very well have its own weather system; but that’s all right, because Johnson’s deltoids have their own atmosphere and gravity too.
Sarah and the MacGuffins – oops, the children – are along for a holiday and are staying in The Pearl while Will is on the job. It’s a setting ripe for a Die Hard rehash and sure enough, before you can say “Welcome to the party, pal”, heavily-armed bad guys have taken over the building.
Their motives appear vague at first, and then when they become clear, you wish they had remained unexplained. Not spoiling it, really, but I figure the villains broke up into little working groups and drew up their cunning plan as separate modules, which they are now executing out of sequence.
But heck, that’s the price you pay when updating a 1980s movie plot with 21st-century visual effects; the latterday curse of haphazard plotting comes along for the ride. And yes, things are even worse now in that department, generally speaking, than in those slap-dash, nutty decades in which Skyscraper has its cinematic roots.
Writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber (re-teaming with Johnson from 2016’s Central Intelligence) eschews the canny but, er, dodgy sensibilities he used to such great effect in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story to turn in a strictly formulaic flick here.
Somehow, though, he manages to crank up that formula and capitalise on the audience-winning ways of his star. The resulting blend is a series of utterly ridiculous but still sphincter-constricting thrills that will have viewers squeezing the heck out of their popcorn tubs from sheer suspense.
I can’t think of any star apart from Johnson who could sway audiences to such a degree that they gleefully swallow the nonsensical extremes to which Skyscraper goes.
It is, however, a pity that the film lacks villainy that is sufficiently grandiose and colourful to match Will Sawyer’s superhuman exploits. Sure, they do vicious things and end many people in cold-blooded ways, but the baddies generally come up short in the charisma department against, say, Hans Gruber’s necktie.
As such, their comeuppances lack any real satisfaction and the film has to rely solely on the Sawyers’ rapport with the viewer, built over a lean 90 or so minutes, for its emotional payoff.
Though, as movie endings go, I prefer the one where the giant albino gorilla pranked The Rock.
Catch this movie at Golden Screen Cinemas nationwide. Follow GSC on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Moller, Byron Mann, Hannah
Quinlivan, Pablo Schreiber, Noah Taylor