Starring Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Møller, Noah Taylor. Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber.
Skyscraper, or Between a Rock and a Shard Place as it should be known, is a strange entity. Of course, it pairs Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson with his most natural of co-stars – a big fuck up in a confined space, but it’s the brain child of Rawson Marshall Thurber, director of Dodgeball, We’re the Millers and Central Intelligence. You know, comedy movies.
Taking a leaf from Die Hard and The Towering Inferno, this big dumb action movie sees former professional Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson retire from doing things The Rock does (shooting, fighting, shouting at crazy people), and settle into a security analyst job with wife Neve Campbell (we should all be so lucky) and two adorable kids. When the building they’re staying in is under seige from— you’ve seen the trailer, you know this, right?
Naturally Dwayne Johnson is his usual tank-sized charisma battleship self, able to convince everyone he’s a former The Rock, in reality it’s some form of special ops type in which he lost a leg. Lucky for him that he met Army Medic Neve Campbell when he was all broken. The set up is done with an almost annoyed look of everyone’s face, like they have zero interest in building the setting, the characters and the sense of place, and in fairness, with the exception of Johnson, why should they? People didn’t come for a drama about an amputee making a go of a security firm in Hong Kong, they came for Johnson jumping off a crane into a building.
The setting up goes quickly enough, and Thurber plants the seeds of the recurring motifs – phone bit, “daddy loves who?”, his love of his fake leg. Not only that but Campbell manages to turn what is normally a one note character into someone with some agency, and some skills, she spends a large portion of the film in the building with the kids and it never tires. Similarly, McKenna Roberts and Noah Cottrell are great as the kids who are both scared, but also able to not scream the house down like so many small children in these movies.
The flaws of the film come largely with its tone and its villains. While Chin Han as billionaire building owner does what he almost always does (ten years since The Dark Knight and he appears to still be playing the same role), the villains are weak, without any kind of proper motivation and a lack of villainy and good lines, this coupled with a profound lack of laughs and fun. Skyscraper wants to be an homage to Die Hard, to the movies of Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger but forgets to add the quips. In fact it forgets that some of the 90s weirder action films (mainly ones with Nicolas Cage) were off the wall crazy, The Rock, Con Air, Face/Off all had a madness to them.
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Roland Moller does his best but he forever appears to the head henchman, he isn’t Hans Gruber, nor is he James Woods (fuck James Woods) in White House Down. He’s an imposing nemesis and someone we want Johnson to throw down with, but he’s not arch villain material. In playing it straight and forgetting to have a compelling panto-style baddie, Skyscraper falls short of it’s true potential. Had Thurber gone for more jokes – and there are moments dying for jokes, physical, audio or even quips, this could have been the big dumb movie of the year. Had they gotten someone with an ability to get camp (Mark Strong? Eddie Marsan? A surprise Michael Keaton?) and this could have been the film of the year.
As it stands, Skyscraper has enough going for it in it’s leading man, it’s leading lady and it’s big poster/trailer worthy moments to make for a crowd pleasing film. But White House Down, it ain’t. This feels more like a Olympus has Fallen, and frankly, everyone in this has a better movie in them, it’s a funnier one than this.