Saturday, 29 February 2020

Movie review: Skyscraper, dir Rawson Marshall Thurber (2018)

This formulaic vehicle for Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) provides plenty of spectacle if not plenty of poetry, although there’s a good secondary plotline involving Sarah Sawyer (Neve Campbell) and the Hong Kong policeman (Byron Mann) in charge at the crime scene which is knitted into the plot in an efficient way, allowing for sense-making. Their cooperation provides relief in light of the aggressive lawlessness of Kores Botha (Roland Moller) and his thugs.

But rather than great art it’s competent filmmaking. The director also wrote the screenplay and Johnson is credited as one of the producers. Theirs is a simple story with uncomplicated characters. Will Sawyer (Johnson) and his wife Sarah and children are staying on the 98th floor of a new building in Hong Kong, the world’s tallest. The skyscraper is taller than the Burg in Dubai and only the first half has been occupied when Will – a former FBI officer – is brought in to do a security assessment for the owner, Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han).

Will’s biometric data (using his face) is scanned to allow access to a digital device like an iPad that provides security access to the monitoring and control system for the building. A thug steals Will’s bag as he’s on his way with his friend Ben (Pablo Schreiber) to inspect the offsite control centre, but Will has put the device in his pocket, so it is not lost. Ben and Will then fight for the device in Ben’s apartment and then things get out of hand when Will realises that there is a sinister plot to destroy the building.

The rest of the movie sees Will try to save his family, who are trapped in the burning building, and foil the baddies. It’s tremendous fun, and the visual stunts – most of which are made using CGI – are amazing. This is action at its best, a film that embodies the term “cliff-hanger” in the best tradition of the ‘Mission: Impossible’ films.

There’s a knowing nod to the novelist Vladimir Nabokov in the name of the manufacturer of the parachutes the baddies have brought to the building with them to make their escape. It’s “Sirin”, which was the pen name Nabokov used when he published some of his Russian works as a young man. Nabokov famously studied butterflies, and even named some North American species.

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