Ten years ago, in Minnesota, Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) suffered a mishap when he was working at a hostage situation he and his team were supposed to be defusing. The result was loss of life and Will's left foot, just below the knee, in an explosion he still believes he could have prevented, and the guilt has taken him away from the police and into private security work, largely as an advisor. At the moment his job is in Hong Kong, where the world's tallest skyscraper has been constructed by ambitious billionaire businessman Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han) with as much of the latest technology that is available. Will is so impressed he has been happy to take the chance of moving his family in...
But this was not a sensitive drama about a family coming to terms with the father's trauma as he successfully rebuilds his life, it was an action flick best summed up as The Towering Inferno crossed with Die Hard, only something of a letdown in comparison to both. Johnson's previous film had been Rampage, which hit upon a winning combination of the amusingly ridiculous and the pulpy spectacular, and it was apparent this was the pattern he was trying to follow with efforts that took their lead from the Fast & Furious franchise: nothing to tax the brain, just simple, dumb fun that made for an entertaining night out or indeed an entertaining night in, depending on preference.
So what went wrong here? San Andreas, a genuine hit for the star, was no classic either but audiences had by and large enjoyed it for what it was, an unpretentious collection of action setpieces where they could indulge their mass destructive fantasies. There was but one burning building in Skyscraper, which could have been said to be a step down in scale, yet director and writer Rawson Marshall Thurber attempted to make up for it by emphasising the vertigo, which was fair enough if you were watching this on IMAX, but no matter how big your television the fact remained this was going to look more than a little fake when watched in a regular home environment.
There was a hint this was intended to make you laugh as much as have you on the edge of your seat, particularly when, say, The Rock leaps from a crane hundreds of feet up in the air through a smashed window to gain access to the building his family were trapped in by the fire, and all while managing to reach incredible speed despite not having the full complement of extremities. Stuff like that was absurd, yet approached with such a straight face that the joke was lost on the journey, and chuckles were thin on the ground when the characters were so earnest: were we supposed to laugh at their dreadful dilemmas too, or take them as seriously as they did? Certainly the business with the hall of mirrors produced a generous dose of high concept silliness, but nobody appeared to be winking at us here.
Especially when there was a faith in technology relying on a science fictional conception of such hardware which waved away any quibbles that this was getting hard to believe, to say the least, with an airy dismissal that same technology could do anything you asked as long as you remembered turning it off an on again saw off any glitches. Neve Campbell played Sarah, Will's other half, marshalling their two moppets into the safety of his heavily muscular arms, at times remotely, but as expected it was a thankless role when it was Johnson we wanted to see save the day, no matter the script offering her a secondary opportunity at heroics - you would be less than convinced by this sop. The bad guys were movie terrorists out to increase their bank accounts, basically, and barely characterised, while Zhao looked like a different kind of sop, to the Asian market that Hollywood was increasingly appealing to in order to generate blockbuster-sized profits, all very well but not when the Asian stars had so little of interest to do. All in all, a disappointment. Music by Steve Jablonsky.