The Rock vs. a Building. But it doesn’t start like that. No no, this Demigod turned father-figure opens his summer flick on a beautiful starry night softly lighting the red and blue flash of cop cars. A prone silhouette decorates the ground as negotiations with the perp fall short of the mark. The soft steps of FBI agents cut through this radio chatter while entrance is forced into the hostage house with a notable BANG. Followed by another BANG so loud, so sudden, and so bright the audience is propelled to the PRESENT DAY with some much needed exposition already explained and ready to be used as character motivation later on. Exposition in the form of how-I-met-your-mother and partial PTSD for our protagonist (which is later revealed that he leaves the FBI because of this botched rescue attempt in the first 3 minutes of the film and why he does not use guns) is also partially explained and gives us a glimpse into how our protagonist is where he is.
We enter the main scene on Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) and his family in China, the first family to stay in Zhao Min Zhi’s (Chin Han) state-of-the-art, one-of-a-kind, safety-through-the-roof skyscraper endearingly named “The Pearl.” If you’ve ever seen a braided honey pretzel, you have a good idea of what this skyscraper looks like. If you stand that pretzel up and manage to balance a marble on it and an impressive turbine system to power a mini ecosystem on its own, that is The Pearl.
Will’s family has the luck to stay in The Pearl’s swanky living spaces because of their father’s luck in landing a business deal with Zhao to determine the security of this building. He readies himself in the bathroom for the business meeting while his kids ready themselves for the indoor adventure park. Will’s wife, Sara Sawyer (Neve Campbell), along with her twin children Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell). Will is revealed to be missing his lower left leg from the earlier BANG, to which he carefully attaches a prosthetic. Sara comes in as Will is checking himself out in the reflection and tries to reassure him that the business deal will be fine. That he’ll be fine. That he’s worked hard and it shows. They share an intimate moment of vulnerability, which makes us love their relationship even more and worry over the inevitable firestorm foretold by the trailers.
Before they part ways for what they all assume is a fun day at the park and job things on their father’s end, Will asks his kids repeatedly “Daddy loves who? Daddy loves who?” and they respond with equal verve: “Me!” It’s sweet. It’s cute. It makes us love them and their loving innocence. (Also the casting is so on point because Georgia and Henry actually look like they could be the spawn of Campbell and Johnson.)
This family bond is the silver lining of this movie, the thread holding together an odd amalgamation of CGI, police chases, and frantic skyscraper climbing and bashing, both of which Will securely delivers like a rock through a windshield. His family is what motivates Will to do crazy, unreasonable things and keeps him moving when any sane man would have given up. Nothing on Earth will stop Will from coming to their rescue. Not Botha (Roland Møller) and his thugs nor flaming skyscraper. Will is heroic to the point of stupidity.
And that summarizes Will’s motivation for the entire movie. Every impossible hurdle, every unrealistic challenge, he brushes aside as he follows his gut to save his family. Will he be able to get into this building? Of course. Will he survive this jump? Don’t worry about it. Will he beat the bad guys? …yes? For the most part? Because the majority of the movie is spent with knowledge that Botha is the villain, but we are left in the dark about why he is so and what motivates him. For the most part, Botha is a man with a vendetta that we cannot explain or sympathize with, so we couldn’t care less about why he exists. We see him as a nuisance to Will, an immoral, ruthless criminal that we barely get any insight into and feel less attached to than this building.
I honestly felt more bad when the building was burning than when Will was slaughtering his enemies with makeshift, Macgyvered weapons and tools. At this point and throughout the film, I knew and cared more about this inanimate Pearl than the villains…
…unless the real villain here is the building.
At which I may agree with because of how minimal the actual human villains made me worry. There are some poignant scenes where Will’s daughter is kidnapped and the bad guys threaten to throw her off the top of the building, but these villainous goons are never more villainous than the accidental, tempestuous whims of a building on fire. Will is realistically facing man-made nature, a monster of human creation and the villains thrown in are nothing but pests that add to the drama. He is facing off against something much greater than himself and is almost bested by the building beast several times.
If you are afraid of heights, or of falling from said heights, this movie is more than enough thriller than Michael Jackson could ever give you. Thurber builds the tension beautifully. You feel like you are there with Will and you are experiencing what he is seeing, what he is feeling. We are at the edge of our seats as he is at the edge of a building. We catch our breaths when he stumbles thousands of feet up in the air. Every slip, every fall, every uncontrolled movement he has that high off the ground gave me goosebumps and vertigo.
Will jumps out of a low stakes window near the beginning of the movie, and his endeavors get more and more ridiculous as he attempts to scale and enter this burning building for his family. I knew that a lot of Will’s jumping around and doing crazy stunts was a.) a stunt double and b.) CGI. That doesn’t mean that the CGI was bad, on the contrary, it looks more realistic than my hopes and dreams. The realistic side of me knew that the actors would not be forced to go across terrifying heights because of safety, but like all fantastical movies, you have to suspend your disbelief in order to fully enjoy your cinematic experience.
At one point, Will looks straight into the camera as he is about to rappel down the side of the flaming building with little more than cut rope, duct tape, and a makeshift anchor, to say “This is stupid,” and out he goes. A lot of scenes with Will roaming around the building gave me King Kong vibes, especially when he swings out. Dwayne Johnson is a thick, solid slab of a man. He doesn’t move with the grace of a ballerina while he’s hanging off the side of the building, but his massive girth trying to keep from falling reminded me of the massive ape and all its descendants. In a good way.
And Titanic. The concept is the same, just executed differently. The Chinese police are actually watching The Pearl burn because they know it has numerous safety measures installed and cannot possibly burn down. It would be impossible. But it does. And by the time anybody decides to do anything, if they do anything at all, it is far too late. The entire Chinese populace and citizenry are bystanders to the destruction they are witnessing.
This movie was fun to watch, and one I would recommend. My advice is to not go in with massive expectations for an amazing thriller. It is PG-13. But is well-paced, the fight scenes choreographed well enough, the one-liners not too painfully cliche, and the raw emotion of a parent losing a child or their family portrayed brilliantly. Which I think we can all relate to in light of recent events, but hurts all the more when you break down this movie from its CGI, its name-brand actors, and its trivial plot: This movie is about allowing yourself to be afraid when you are facing insurmountable odds. This movie is about never giving up on those you love and fighting against all odds. This movie, at its core, is about family.
Release Date: July 13, 2018
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Audience: Family and young adults
Runtime: 1 hr 49 min
Official Website: www.SkyscraperMovie.com
Official Social Media Pages:
IMDB Page: @SkyscraperMovie
Wiki Link: @SkyscraperMovie
Shay Santos | Writing Contributor & Filmmaker
B.A. | Film & Comparative Literature | San Diego State Univ.
Strangely obsessed with rule-of-thirds, color theory, and lightbulbs, Shay should not be left alone with a camera for any extended period of time. She loves telling stories, be it on page or on screen and at the discretion of her two friends. Her one rule for filmmaking is that every shot should be aesthetic. Her second rule is that you don’t have to follow the rules. And the third unspoken rule (punishable by excommunication from the boba squad) is that it absolutely MUST tell a story nix sound, dialogue, and SFX. Catch Shay chilling in the manga section of Barnes & Noble or jamming out to anime OSTs. Instagram @zafra.photography | View My Blogs
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