Released: 12th July
Seen: 15th July
One of the most fascinating things to happen recently is the throwback nostalgia film and TV show. We’ve been overloaded with remakes and reboots and pastiche films utilizing the style of films from decades ago, probably more than we’ve had in a while (Because Remake/Reboot/Pastiche films have been around since roughly 2 years after we started making movies and worked out that doing them again was a viable option). When the filmmakers are doing things right and reference the old iconography while adding something new, we get great works like It or Thor: Ragnarok (Which is an awesome movie, I will fight you on that one). When it’s done poorly we get Epic Movie or Justice League (Which is an awful movie in general, I will also fight you on that one). Skyscraper is clearly riffing on imagery and story beats from the Die Hard movies and the question is, does it do it well?
What this film does that’s particularly great is setup and payoff. Everything in this film is important to the story and I do mean EVERYTHING. Simple scenes that seem like they’re just there to show us the main character, Will Sawyer (Played by Dwayne Johnson) interacting with his wife Sarah (Played by Neve Campbell)? Yeah, that’s going to be paid off later during the climax of the movie. A simple scene of Will putting on his prosthetic leg? A key element of an action sequence that only works because we know for a fact that that leg is prosthetic. The opening sequence of back-story showing how that leg was lost? Repeated later on in a key moment of the story. Setup. Payoff. This film does it so well that there is not a single sequence of film left that you could remove, it’s all relevant to the story being told and it makes the elaborate action sequences work so much better.
The action sequences feel inevitable, even the insane moments like the one on the poster that got mocked endlessly for being impossible because of physics. Sure, that’s true (Physics can go to hell when it comes to action films, as far as I’m concerned) but it’s also the only way that scene could go. The brilliance of these action scenes is that it’s not “Brave officer does an insane thing because he can’t think of anything better”, it’s “terrified father thinks of every possible way to get what he needs to get and finds only one option”. It’s actually a major moment in the film where the main character is explicitly told that “Anything is possible with the right motivation” and our star character has the right motivation, thus anything is possible… even climbing around the outside of a building with duct tape, something that made every single person who has ever done anything in theatre happy because every single one of us knows that duct tape is magical.
What’s also magical is the design of the tower itself. Much like the film, it’s a wonderfully constructed work that has a lot going for it that creates a large amount of visual delight. Scenes taking place in the indoor park look spectacular, especially when that park is engulfed in fire and turns into the literal centre of hell. The pearl at the top of the building was particularly beautiful, and an interesting spin on the mirror room from John Wick 2 that still might be my favourite action scene in the last couple of years. Every one of the main cast gets their great moments, not just Dwayne Johnson but Neve Campbell get’s to show off the badass fighter anyone who watched Scream knows and loves. The kids even get a few good moments of strength, they aren’t just props but actual characters who clearly are trying to help or do whatever they can, until it’s unsafe for them to do so.
Some elements are, admittedly, a little farfetched. Beyond just “Physics doesn’t do that” because, again, Physics can go to hell in action movies as far as I’m concerned. We’re talking moments like Dwayne Johnson hanging on the side of a building from a rope that I would guess is about as thick as his finger… yeah, no. Or even the elevator scene, something that’s very cool for a moment but also feels a little off. These tiny little moments do raise an eyebrow, but fortunately, there’s a better sequence just behind it that helps make it believable.
This film also has a serious villain problem. It spends so much time making the family lovable that when we meet the villain, he’s boring and bland and just kind of there. I was honestly more interested in Hannah Quinlivan who played a badass fighter who just shot people without asking questions and was the toughest character in the cast. Why couldn’t she have been the main one to go up against Dwayne instead of the Danish terrorist we got? I mean sure, Roland Møller is a really good actor and he has his moments, but his character is a lot more forgettable than hers was. If we’re going to steal things from Die Hard, which is perfectly OK to steal from, then can we maybe steal the memorable villain while we’re at it? Because I genuinely can’t remember his name or anything about him except that he shoots things and had that one line about anyone doing anything with the right motivation… and I took notes! I have notes and I still forget him. I have Wikipedia, I could go to another tab right now and look (Spoilers, I already did this, how do you think I got the line through the O on his last name?) and his name is Kores Botha… I just typed that just now, I forgot it already. That’s how forgettable this villain is. But Xia the badass soldier woman who basically did the actual heavy lifting and had an insane set of awesome gunfights? Yep, I’m not forgetting her in a hurry.
What makes this film work is that core coupling between Will and Sarah and their children, their bond not only gives the main story a simple but sound structure to work with but it feeds the motivation for the character in a way that nothing else could. It’s established early, powerfully and well so that once we get into the meat of the film it’s easy to just sit back and yell “Go Will, you can do it!”. Much like the skyscraper itself, this film has a solid structure to work around and for the most part, it works with that structure wonderfully. Sure there are problems, there are moments we’ve seen before, there are bits that need improving and some elements just seem like they’re there to show off what can be done nowadays but it still works at what it’s designed to do. Does this movie do the rehashing of Die Hard tropes well? Well, it certainly made me want to yell out “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!”