Does “Skyscraper” Stand Tall?
Two Fandor Staffers debate the highs and lows of the Rock’s new movie.
We are deep into the heady months of blockbuster season, and we here at the Fandor offices are taking refuge from the hot summer days in the cool confines of our friendly local movie theater. In this entry into our Point/Counterpoint series two Fandor staffers wandered into the same showing, one on purpose, and the other ostensibly by mistake. The movie that was playing? Skyscraper, the new Dwayne Johnson vehicle. Look, we here at Fandor have a soft spot for the Rock. But will that good will carry our two writers through to the end credits of his new movie or will it crash and burn?
Harrison Tunggal: The sooner that I realized that calling Skyscraper "discount Die Hard" was an insult to Die Hard, the more I was able to have fun with the film. Skyscraper isn't a good film at all, but I think it's possible to find some enjoyment in it, in the same sense that people find any of the Rock's movies enjoyable.
Quinten Sansosti: I think that finding this movie enjoyable on that basis is contingent on people finding the Rock enjoyable in the lead role, and unfortunately, he just didn't do it for me in this one. While I think the Rock fits the action hero mold in terms of his stature, I feel that in this movie, he lacked the kinetic action star energy that other action stars like Reeves, Damon, and Cruise supply so well. I just felt like everything I was watching him do looked awkward and unconvincing.
HT: That's true, it's one of those times where a bigger budget actually handicaps the movie, since watching the Rock jump around a green screen stage is less fun than watching him jump around an actual set. But I will say that I don't think the Rock should be compared to Reeves, Damon, or Cruise. I feel like the Rock is at least semi-aware of the self-parody of his movies. That he's willing to indulge that sensibility might be why I found myself tolerating the silliness of Skyscraper.
QS: True, the Rock may be a different breed of action hero but ultimately I think that the movie didn't take advantage of why people love guys like the Rock in these kind of roles. The one-liners were forgettable and the “sensitive side” that he often incorporates into his characters wasn't very well established beyond a few brief moments. Granted, he didn't get much in establishing those emotional relationships. His kids literally added nothing to the movie except for being something for him to chase after. They never added valuable insight, solved problems, or engaged in any really exciting action sequences where they weren't being carried around by other characters.
HT: This isn't Tim and Lex from Jurassic Park by any stretch, and I can't really defend this movie's ancillary characters, because they're unilaterally unimaginative, rendered with all the creativity that a writer with a crayon and some Red Bull can afford. Though I do like that this movie's protagonists are largely people of color. But, yes, this script is quite atrocious.
To clarify, there are moments of enjoyment to be had, but let's face it, the Rock scaling a tower with just duct tape and sheer force of will doesn't need to be written by Shakespeare to be entertaining.
QS: Agreed, even by action movie standards the script falls short in a lot of ways, namely with dispensable characters and some very opportunistic changes to plot points that seemed merely for the sake of convenience.
I feel like what we keep coming back to is that this is designed to be an ACTION movie. What did you think of the action sequences throughout the film?
HT: These set pieces deserve a better director, is all I can say about it. The hand-to-hand fights seemed like a waste — they were shot mostly in close-up and edited too quickly, which is a shame, since you just know that the Rock can learn choreography and hold his own in a fight. Give me a one-take Creed-like battle with the Rock in it!
QS: It really does blow my mind that studios are aware of the fact that people love the one take action sequences that have become a trend as of late (Creed, John Wick, Atomic Blonde, The Last Jedi) yet so many films still produce these choppy, rapid, knock-off Jason Bourne series fight scenes. Combined with the ubiquitous flames and smoke, it was really hard to follow what was going on.
In terms of the "on the edge of the building" sequences, I felt like those just took advantage of people’s normal fear of heights to induce suspense, rather than designing sequences to really take that suspense to the next level.
HT: Hey, @directors, stop copying Paul Greengrass! But yes, I do wish this film had taken advantage of its premise a little more. Not in a way that would make the titular building more ridiculous, but in a way that would really lean into the precariousness of being on the ledge of a building. The scene early on, where the Rock has to jump from a crane onto the skyscraper, should have been the crown jewel of the movie. That should have been this movie's Mission Impossible—Burj Khalifa scene. The Rock jumps, and it's all so blasé.
To return to my original point about enjoying this movie's ridiculousness, I did like it when the Rock was dangling from the skyscraper, holding onto his prosthetic leg. I'm curious (and it's totally understandable if you respond in the negative), were there any such ridiculous moments that you sort-of liked?
QS: It wasn't done as well as it could have been, but I did think the scene at the end that felt like a The Lady From Shanghai tribute was preposterous, but definitely enjoyable in its own way. Beyond that, I thought all the other action moments were pretty forgettable aside from the one you referenced (which I actually thought was rather effective until it went WAY over the top).
HT: Totally fair. This movie really does rip off so many others as you said — among its many Die Hard references, there's one at the end that's so on the nose that it's genuinely funny. Again, another instance of ridiculousness that I found enjoyable.
On that note, even though I did find some of this movie enjoyable, I really wish it were better. I want to see more blockbusters that aren't franchise entries — ones like we got in the pre-superhero era, with a bankable star, a decent budget, and a solid director. But it's too bad that Skyscraper isn't that. I'm sure people will see this movie — the folks in our theater seemed to be having a good time — but I don't think it will be a barnburner in a way that might get us more of those non-franchise blockbusters in the future. Which is this movie's biggest fault, for me.
QS: I agree with all of those points. This movie felt like one of those C/C+ movies that will give the audience most of what they want while being utterly forgettable in the long term. In a summer dominated by franchise blockbusters though (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Solo: A Star Wars Story, the assorted Avengers films, Mission: Impossible - Fallout) it is nice to see some people at least attempting something a little different.
HT: To cap it off, why don't we give two take aways and a wish for the movie? I'll go first. I liked when the Rock stopped the doors from closing by using his prosthetic leg to jam it open. I also loved that when Zhao (Ng Chin Han) is asked what he'll do now that his skyscraper is burnt to a crisp, he replies with utter confidence, "rebuild" as if anyone will let him do that again. My wish: For the Rock to leverage his star power to attract better directors, and really become an original action movie auteur. The Rock has a Mad Max: Fury Road within him, and I want to see it!
QS: I liked when the Rock used an axe as a weapon. And I loved it when the credits rolled. My wish: For the Rock to get ahold of a script that takes advantage of his strengths and offers some strong supporting cast that can elevate the film to the next level.