Saturday, 21 July 2018

IN THEATRES: Skyscraper

Former FBI agent Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) is now a security consultant for skyscrapers. His latest job is to run a risk assessment on the world's tallest building, the Pearl. When terrorists attack the building, it falls to Will to get inside the building and save his family.

The time when I was growing up was the era of the Die Hard ripoff. The successor to the 80s trend of one-man-army action flicks (Rambo, Commando, Invasion USA etc) from 1988 through 1997, Hollywood studios turned out variants on John McTiernan's classic, from 'Die Hard on a bus' (Speed) through to 'Die Hard in a reform school' (Toy Soldiers), 'Die Hard on a boat' (Under Siege) and 'Die Hard on a plane' (Con Air and Air Force One).

As with all trends, the 'Die Hard on a...' ran its course. But every now and then, a movie comes out harkens back to those movies - 2013's double whammy of Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down being the most recent examples.

And now we have Skyscraper, a worthy addition to this second wave of 'Die Hard on a [thing]' movies. Following the success of the more comedically-geared Jumanji - Welcome to the Jungle and Rampage, Skyscraper might be Dwayne Johnson's most straightforward attempt at an old school action movie.

There were elements of this movie that filled me with joy - not just from the nostalgia of watching movies like this, but the visceral excitement of watching it done so well. Right from the opening scenes, Skyscraper wastes no time in setting up our hero and the key location.

Every beat of this story, and the characters within it, plays put with no fuss or dallying. So many action movies now feel leaden and overlong - Skyscraper moves brisk through its expository opening while also weaving in moments for us to identify with the Sawyers.

Call it cheesy if you like, but I loved how unpretentious Skyscraper was in following the conventions of action movies past. Nothing about it feels new, but it all feels functional to the story.

It also benefits from a great sense of scale. Even with Dwayne Johnson as the lead, the filmmakers emphasise how small he is in comparison to the challenges he faces - even without his disability. The use of sound in particular - the most vivid example is the roar of the wind, and the creaking of the crane as Johnson shuffles along it toward the building.

The obstacles our hero faces are considerably less fantastical than the perils facing other blockbusters - which is not to say they have any basis in reality. It is more of a case of Skyscraper's movie logic is that of 1990s action cinema. Our hero can jump from a crane to a building, fall from that same building multiple times, and survive other potentially fatal events (stabbing, shootings and fire) and survive them all. But unlike the Fast movies, where characters do not react to any of the antics they get up to, Sawyer is constantly terrified, out of breath and at least shows a level of exhaustion and pain after he overcomes every obstacle.

The movie is not perfect. Skyscraper does not boast the characterisation of the best Die Hard clones - Johnson's family are winsome, but exist merely as motivation for our hero to climb and jump off tall things. Meanwhile the villains are completely colourless - they do not even have any defining eccentricities or quirks to make them more interesting. This is a movie that stars Noah Wyle - a great character actor - as a supporting villain, and gives him nothing to do.

And ironically considering the pedigree of its star and director - the film suffers from a near-total lack of humour. For such a clear genre throwback, it is weird that the tone is the most contemporary element of the movie. While the situation is dire, the movie could have used some more relief.

Despite, these flaws, at its basis Skyscraper is an obstacle course for the Rock to jump, punch, and manfully lurch through to save his family. All the effort of the filmmakers has been put into making every one of the set-pieces as tense and exciting as possible.

Skyscraper is not smart or deep in any way, but Rawson Marshall Thuber's film has a keen understanding of the weight and feel of being suspended hundreds and thousands of feet in the air. It is a pure visceral fear that is usually drowned out by CGI and fantasy elements. As a back-to-basics, high concept action picture this is Johnson's best solo action vehicle since The Rundown.


Die Hard rip-offs (Den of Geek)

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