MOVIETALKY: Skyscraper (2018)

Skyscraper (2018)

Is Skyscraper any good?
It’s serviceable.
What’s it about?
It’s about 90 minutes long, maybe longer with trailers.
Ha ha. Wait – 90 minutes? Aren’t action movies longer than that these days?
Yeah, not a lot of fat on this one – which, for a change, is actually kind of a problem. First movie like this I’ve seen in awhile that feels like it could’ve stood to gain weight.
How so?
Well, the skyscraper in the movie isn’t just a building. It’s a new “tallest building ever” with a supposedly unique structure, it’s own wind turbines, basically an entire vertical city inside (including a whole park with trees and a waterfall!) and a bunch of top-secret virtual-reality “stuff” on the super-secure top floors and a whole bunch of special security systems keeping it all running. So you’d expect in most movies a big chunk of Act 1 being scenes taking us through all this, so we get a sense of where everything is in relation to everything else when for when the action gets going.
But they don’t do that?
They do not. It pretty much jumps right from a few “Wow, that’s a nifty building!” establishing shots and a two-sequence walkthrough of a weird V.R. thing they need to explain for the finale and then it’s time for all hell to break loose. Not a lot of time to get situated or have a real sense of space.
Got it. So… what’s the story?
Die Hard, but on fire.
Okay, enough with the jokes…
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as a one-legged ex-FBI hardass turned security-expert consulting on an ultra high tech “tallest building ever” skyscraper in Hong Kong that finds itself under attack by heavily-armed mercenaries for not-immediately-clear reasons whose plan involves setting fire to the middle-floors to disable the fire-control systems for… other reasons. This in turn traps Johnson’s wife and two children in what was supposed to be a deserted residential floor, meaning he has to figure out a way to climb the building, get back inside, rescue them, figure out what the bad guys want and stop them all while evading an attempt to frame HIM for the whole scheme.
Wait – if the bad guys are already covering their attack/robbery/whatever with a fire, why are they framing someone? Isn’t that more suspicious and attention-drawing?
Because if the authorities weren’t held back by suspicions of the guy who’s also the one man in a position to save the day. It would be harder to still depict the Chinese police, military, and government authorities as hyper-competent, ruthlessly-efficient stalwarts of effective justice. It’s the Die Hard “every authority figure but McClane sucks at their job” thing ain’t going to fly in current Chinese co-productions.” So they are wholly capable of handling the situation but… don’t, so that the visiting Western megastar can still be the hero.
Ah. So this is like that second Pacific Rim where the fact that they even shot this in English and bothered opening it wide in the States is almost kind of a courtesy?
Certainly seems that way.
How are the actors?
Fine, I guess? It’s mainly coasting on Johnson’s seemingly-bottomless reserves of charisma and screen-presence. It has the occasional infusion of “Wow, she’s usually in better things than this!” class from Campbell. And the icy gravitas (and “hometown” star-power) from Singaporean superstar Chin Han and some occasional left-field Bond Girl-style sex-appeal courtesy Taiwanese star Hannah Quinlivan. But it seems she’s slipped in from a different, more interesting movie as a henchwoman who ends up overshadowing a fairly dull main bad guy (her scenes all feel like a more “traditional” home-grown Hong Kong actioner, all slick posing and absurdly casual mass-murder of police/guard/worker extras.
Any standout sequences?
A few. The two big “The Rock has to figure out how to climb a building without climbing gear” scenes are both pretty great. And there’s a big bit once the family is reunited where they have to work together to get out of a jam that’s ridiculous but interestingly-staged enough that I started to wonder why that wasn’t the whole movie instead of just doing Die Hard again. A lot of the rest is pretty forgettable, though I did like the meta-gag of having a huge crowd watching the whole thing below in the street to encourage the movie-audience when and how to react.
But do you recommend it?
I mean… I don’t “not” recommend it? Like a lot of Johnson’s second-tier vehicles, it feels a little bit like something that’s supposed to look like a “grown-up” movie, but the target audience is really closer to 8 year-olds. It’s not a chore, but maybe don’t go full price.

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