2018, PG-13, 103 min. Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Møller, Noah Taylor, Byron Mann, Pablo Schreiber, Hannah Quinlivan.
REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., July 13, 2018
As long as Dwayne Johnson and Tom Cruise earn millions for jumping off giant buildings in movies, the leading man remains alive and well in Hollywood. Skyscraper is the second outing for Johnson and writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber; back in 2016, their action-comedy Central Intelligence was one of the summer’s breakout hits, and Skyscraper seems destined to follow suit, even if it is one of the weaker outings of Johnson’s illustrious career.
Years after a violent terrorist attack led to his retirement from the FBI, Will Sawyer (Johnson) finally has a chance to get his struggling security company off the ground. All Sawyer needs to do is fly to Hong Kong and perform a risk assessment of the tallest building in the world, a superstructure that contains living quarters and offices hundreds of stories above the ground. Unfortunately, Sawyer’s employers did not plan on a group of mercenaries setting the entire building on fire, and now he and his family must escape a burning skyscraper while dodging gunfire around every corner.
Johnson may not be surrounded by his usual cadre of A-list performers in Skyscraper, but each of the actors in his orbit work overtime to squeeze every last drop of value from the screenplay. Campbell, who has somehow only starred in one movie since 2011, reminds everyone that she deserves far better than Hollywood has to offer her; Møller’s scene-chewing terrorist is just the right amount of (vaguely European) evil for a summer crowdpleaser. Throw in veteran standouts like Mann and Han and everything is in place to keep the script moving along at a brisk pace.
Surprisingly, what lets Skyscraper down is its lack of scale. Its outlandish premise deserves the kind of eye-popping action sequences normally reserved for a Fast and the Furious sequel, but the film instead settles for a heavy dose of digital effects. Thurber and cinematographer Robert Elswit seem uncertain of how to blend Johnson’s outlandish physicality with their more everyman series of action beats; while the film makes good use of Sawyer’s prosthetic leg throughout, they fail to deliver the kind of signature setpieces we demand of big-budget movies these days.
And this disconnect reveals a more specific problem. Sawyer is no less a demigod among men, but without a sense of humor or a self-aware streak to balance out Johnson’s imposing physicality, we’re left with an action movie that stars Dwayne Johnson instead of a project tailored to the actor’s strengths. You could replace Johnson with Mark Wahlberg and barely miss a beat; this serves as a direct contradiction to Johnson’s career, where each character is crafted to the actor’s specific physical and comedic strengths.
In the end, it’s hard to rule out any Johnson movie entirely, but Skyscraper is more disappointment than summer sleeper. Given that Thurber and Johnson have more projects in the pipeline together, here’s hoping the two men learn from their missteps and craft a more suitable vehicle for Johnson’s unique set of skills.