About midway through Skyscraper, Dwayne Johnson makes his infamously impossible leap from crane to window. As he evades police firing at him from all sides and pulls himself up from the edge, a group of onlookers down below start to cheer for him. It was this moment that confirmed a thought that crossed my mind during the genuinely sweet early scenes between Johnson, Neve Campbell and their two children. This just might be the most adorable action film I’ve ever seen, a hallmark movie with explosions.
Plenty of danger befalls Johnson’s Will Sawyer and his family, but none of it is particularly threatening. Even as the titular two hundred story death trap starts to burn to the ground while bodies pile up, there’s a prevailing sense that everything is going to be okay for our main players. After all, Daddy Dwayne loves his kids very much and that love has caught the attention of lady luck. We can always count on some insane act of God to save Johnson from falling to his death or getting riddled with machine gun fire.
Writer/Director Rawson Marshall Thurber wisely had Johnson play against type as an overgrown softy in their previous romp, Central Intelligence, and the same formula works nicely here. Johnson is not coasting on his brash autopilot mode that got him through Rampage and the Furious saga. Here, he’s a big ol’ marshmellow, resorting to violence only when he absolutely has to. For pretty obvious reasons, this film has been compared to Die Hard by virtually anybody who laid eyes on the trailer, but Johnson’s decidedly anti-Mcclane turn curbs that impulse. Stock villains wipe out the rest of those parallels, never becoming anything other than punching bags or exposition dumpers. Campbell too is strong here, getting a fair amount to do in the action scenes to supplement her earnest chemistry with Johnson.
Much like the building it takes place in, every moment of Skyscraper seems meticulously calculated to be as safe as possible. The action sequences, while fairly well shot and full of near misses, are never too dangerous or too violent. A lot of people get shot, but they’re almost always faceless and don’t seem to have blood in their veins and nobody ever seems that scared. After all, if they were to get too terrified, they might drop a cuss word and we can’t have that. Even Johnson’s many treacherous forays across the building’s grooves and edges lack the feeling of visceral vertigo that ran through the similar and iconic Borj Kalifa sequence in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. We know that if Johnson were to let go, he’d fall right onto a padded mat of soft green screen. While it’s certainly comforting to know that Hollywood’s most lovable lug will be okay, it does take a great deal of suspense out of the proceedings.
You can feel the filmmaking gears turning in every scene.Even with a fairly tight runtime, there’s an awful lot of expositional gobbledygook delivered by auxiliary characters on the ground who have no real baring on the story itself. These moments are transparent spoon-feeding sessions for our audience, to make sure nobody’s lost as we try to navigate the incredibly complex tale of “man climbing building.”
Skyscraper hits a certain nirvana of mediocrity that almost circles around to being impressive. It’s likable enough to make for an enjoyable watch as long as your brain is in deep sleep mode, but it never reaches for anything that might make it stand out. There’s no self awareness that could lead to campy comedy, no serious violence that could create genuine intensity and no moment of unpredictability that could be at risk of sticking to your mind. It’s a disposable exercise in mass amnesia, made to entertain audiences across the world only to gracefully slip out of their minds the second they stand up to leave. I would like to say that I can smell what The Rock is cooking, but vanilla doesn’t have a scent.