Johnson stars as Will Sawyer, a former FBI agent and military vet left an amputee after a harrowing hostage-rescue mission goes awry. Now resigned to a comparatively more hum-drum life as a security expert and family man, Sawyer is tapped by his former partner (Pablo Schreiber) to assess the security system of the world’s newest tallest building: a soaring, über-high-tech 240-storey structure in Hong Kong named “The Pearl.”
With only one more box to tick on the “yep, this thing’s super-secure!” checklist, Sawyer and the Pearl’s architect/visionary (Chin Han) are suddenly targeted by a nondescript “Scandanavian” criminal mastermind (Roland Møller), who wants to destroy the entire building by disabling all its security features (including the handy anti-fire technology) and burning it to the ground. Bonus: framing an off-site Sawyer for the whole thing, to boot!
Too bad Sawyer’s wife (the miscast Neve Campbell) and two kids (McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell) are trapped inside.
Faster than you can say, “Check your brain at the door!”, Skyscraper sets logic and reason a’blaze, and has Sawyer risking life and artificial-limb to get back into the towering inferno to rescue his family by any means necessary. And those means involve plenty of perilous moments, death-defying stunts and look-away-if-you-have-vertigo POV shots from way, way high in the sky.
Unfortunately, a lot of what happens in Skyscraper feels pretty familiar, and some of Sawyer’s tactics have been employed better in other movies. Case in point: his approach to climbing the exterior of the Pearl, which borrows heavily (but not that well) from Tom Cruise scaling the Burj Khalifa in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. What should have had audience jaws slack instead felt like a bit of knock-off. As well, the film’s paper-thin plot feels like an afterthought to the non-stop running and fire and heroics, which grow tiresome by the time the film hits the halfway mark.
Some of the casting was also a problem. Campbell and Johnson have zero romantic chemistry, and give off more of a brother/sister vibe. I didn’t believe that they’d been married for a decade or that either one had any kind of powerful bond with their kids (or each other). Noah Taylor has a completely pointless throw-away role that could easily have been left on the cutting-room floor, and then there’s the strange Matrix-esque female assassin (with dubbed dialogue) who seems to serve no purpose whatsoever except adding one more ounce of violence to the film.
And make no mistake: the film is violent. Plenty of innocent characters are mowed down for no discernable reason, which may surprise some viewers thinking the movie is going to be a family-friendly adventure.
The only thing Skyscraper really has going for it is its star, who remains charming and likeable even when serving up sub-par material (which he nonetheless does his best to sell). And, for a movie like this, that might just be enough. Through all the over-the-top action and epic-stunt set pieces, Johnson still manages to eke out some laughs and to create a sympathetic character for whom viewers (both onscreen and off) will undoubtedly cheer.