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New Release Review - SKYSCRAPER

skyscraper movie review
A security expert attempts to rescue his family from the towering inferno they've become trapped in.







Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Pablo Schreiber, Chin Han, Noah Taylor

skyscraper movie poster


Over the last half century, the concept of blockbuster spectacle has flipped on its head. In the 1960s, big budget spectacle meant Steve McQueen jumping over a barbed wire fence on a motorcycle without the aid of a stunt double, or Julie Andrews screaming her lungs out on a Swiss mountainside. Science fiction was relegated to Saturday morning screenings of b-movies, which parents would use to relieve themselves of their tykes while they went shopping. George Lucas changed all that a decade later, and now sci-fi and fantasy dominates the multiplex, while the only movies featuring practical stunts are those low budget straight to VOD action movies designed to showcase the athleticism of former MMA fighters.

In Asia however, things are a little different. That continent's obsession with martial arts means audiences still favour a human being using their body to create spectacle than a CG explosion fest, and the Chinese government's intolerance for religion means many sci-fi flicks are banned due to their supernatural content. The recent Star Wars reboots have shocked Hollywood by bombing at the Chinese box office, where homegrown action movies (often with a propagandistic bent) dominate. With the Chinese market simply too large to ignore, Hollywood has struggled to find a movie that can conquer western and eastern box offices. What excites viewers in Beijing and Baltimore equally? Enter Dwayne Johnson.

skyscraper movie

A unique talent, Johnson is a rare combination of everyman and otherworldly Adonis, Tom Hanks in the body of Arnie. There isn't a scenario too overblown or down to earth for his winning screen presence. Like Tom Cruise, he's a figure of inspiration; he makes us want to be better humans. He must be insufferable to live with.

There isn't another performer on the planet who could headline Skyscraper, a 21st century update of The Towering Inferno topped with a double scoop of Die Hard. The film's poster features the attention grabbing image of Johnson making a death-defying (and physically impossible, as revealed by maths nerds with too much time on their hands) leap from a crane onto the side of a giant structure. It's patently ridiculous, but with Johnson, anything seems possible.

skyscraper movie

Said structure is 'The Pearl', a newly erected Hong Kong skyscraper that boasts 220 floors, an indoor park and an elaborate hall of mirrors, the latter's practical function I'm frankly baffled by, but it does lend itself to one of the more unique riffs on Orson Welles' Lady from Shanghai.

Former FBI agent, now security expert Will Sawyer (Johnson) moves into The Pearl with his wife Sarah (Scream star Neve Campbell in a welcome return to the big screen) and two young kids. He's been assigned to check out the security details of the structure in order to ensure it's up to scratch. What he doesn't know is that he's been set up as a patsy for a crew of Euro trash baddies who take over the building, setting it on fire for some unknown nefarious reason. Framed for the fire, Sawyer must find a way into the tower and save his family.

The titular tower serves as a way of patting the Chinese authorities on the back - who else could erect such a structure in today's economy? - but there's a sly subtext that seems to condemn China's race to the future at the expense of its own culture, with Sawyer frequently relying on Chinese cultural artefacts like Jian swords and jade statues to solve various predicaments (along with his prosthetic leg, probably also made in China).

skyscraper movie

The script, penned by director Rawson Marshall Thurber, is functional and flat, padded with puns that don't quite land despite Johnson's best efforts, save for one great line about the many functions of duct tape. That said, it's also finely focussed, clearly the work of a single creator, and the movie never gets needlessly bogged down in exposition like so many written by committee modern blockbusters.

As dumb as a bag of cement, Skyscraper is nevertheless undeniably watchable, thanks chiefly to Johnson's presence and his unrivalled skill at acting against greenscreen backdrops. He'll never win any awards for it, but Johnson possesses an uncanny ability to act against inanimate objects and yet to be rendered backdrops. The CG in Skyscraper is often unconvincing, yet Johnson is so committed to the cause that we're genuinely struck by a sense of vertigo as he dangles off cranes and pylons a mile above the bustling Hong Kong streets. To paraphrase the marketing of Superman: The Movie, you'll believe a man can fall.

Skyscraper is in UK/ROI cinemas July 12th.




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