Disaster movies have always been good, fun-loving, popcorn entertainment. Towering Inferno and Poseidon Adventure are two that come to mind. Both have star-studded casts and lots of action. I preferred Poseidon because the characters had more depth, which gave the situation a more emotional impact. Not that you need a dramatic spin to your disaster movie, but if you want to engage the audience more and keep them coming, it does help. Other noteworthy disaster films are Twister, Deep Impact, Armageddon, Dante’s Peak, Volcano, The Core, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, and San Andreas, which happens to star The Rock, just like my current topic of review, Skyscraper.
The most acclaimed disaster film, Titanic, even won the best picture at the academy awards, so clearly making a great movie that happens to have an action-laden backdrop of devastation won’t hurt your chances among your peers. Just make sure when you do, the main characters are worth caring about. Otherwise, it’s just visual noise and we won’t come back for seconds. I mean unless you have a really amazing scene or two; but I’ll only Youtube those moments. So where would I rank our next film in all this?
In Skyscraper, written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) has been given a job in Hong Kong as a safety assessor for a new building that is higher than any other in the world. It is nicknamed The Pearl and is owned by Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han), who loves to entertain his guests with flourishes of advanced technology and architecture. The building itself is a marvel of modern construction, but it has some hidden secrets as well. Sawyer’s family currently resides on one of the residential floors. As he prepares to finish his job inspecting the building’s many safety features and security protocols, a group of heavily armed individuals hijacks the building’s system and creates an inferno on one of the higher floors. It is only a matter of time before the fire spreads. With Sawyer no longer in the building to protect his family, he must figure out how to get to them as quickly as possible, but without attracting the attention of the armed men, who have further plans. He has to do all this with the use of a prosthetic leg as one of the wildcard variables in this otherwise pretty standard plot.
I found this to be a really enjoyable disaster movie. It definitely highlights the height of this building in several moments, which made me grip my seat a few times. The visual effects provided that extra dimension of intensity and realism to Dwayne Johnson’s scenes. The fire and the smoke add urgency to the story and make us anxious about when it will reach each floor. There’s even a giant crane scene, but that’s probably the least vertigo-inducing part compared to the others. The way this movie is shot makes you believe that Johnson is hanging from a small ledge thousands of feet off the ground. Sometimes you don’t know which is more dangerous, the windswept ledge outside, or the blazing fire and guns inside. It provides for some interesting situations.
Die Hard could be categorized as a disaster movie. I think it’s more action because the building itself is only a backdrop and not the main danger of the film. Disaster movies always have action in them, but action movies don’t always have a disaster. McClane and the gunmen make a mess of course, but the building doesn’t add to the plot. It only compliments it. Dwayne Johnson is a huge fan of this movie and makes little nods to it in his own. I also see comparisons to Towering Inferno here and there. The Pearl is most certainly its own worst enemy, and that is evident in how the film progresses. Sawyer battles it just as much as he battles the bad guys.
The family dynamic of this movie is actually very important. Will Sawyer’s wife, Sarah, is played by Neve Campbell. Her performance is really good and pairs well with Dwayne Johnson on screen. She is no damsel in distress in this movie. Their two kids do a nice job as well. All of them struggle in different ways but learn to overcome obstacles as best they can. It’s that bond that resonates across the screen and keeps you invested in their quest to reunite.
You’d think Sawyer would have a great battle plan in this movie, but in fact, Sawyer isn’t infallible, which is something I love about the character. His vulnerability as a result of past experiences and the prosthetic leg added to the tension and near-death moments. It was also kind of inspirational if you can put aside the fact that you’re still looking at Dwayne Johnson. The man is a mythic statue of perfection. It’s not something I see Johnson do very often, if at all, and I hope he attempts more nuanced characters in the future. He may not have as much range as a Bruce Willis or Joaquin Phoenix, but he can carry a movie without question. I want to see more though, and I know he can get there.
Skyscraper is a really fun movie and continues the tradition of disaster films in the new era. I think with modern visual effects and computer imaging, there are so many ways to tell what is essentially a familiar story with a facelift, but without getting tired of it. Dwayne Johnson is one component that helps any film like this. I can’t think of anyone else I would have enjoyed jumping off this building more, but somebody less godlike scaling that tower would have been impressive. Greg Grunberg perhaps, but he’s not going to draw the crowds, unfortunately. It was great seeing Neve Campbell on the big screen again. She brought a nice energy to the production. The supporting characters are also a highlight. I was especially entertained by Byron Mann, Pablo Schreiber, Chin Han and several others.
Skyscraper is a popcorn movie and nothing more, but that’s all it needs to be. It does, however, have some emotional resonance, and that makes the nail-biting stunts so much more exciting. Whenever Dwayne Johnson makes a move, I’m afraid I’m the one that’s going to fall or get shot. I still don’t believe a building that big could exist, but it’s nice to imagine what a multi-billionaire would do with one if he could.
Synopsis: A father goes to great lengths to save his family from a burning skyscraper.
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Writer: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Pablo Schreiber, Noah Taylor, McKenna Roberts
Runtime: 1 Hour, 42 Minutes