HomeMoviesSkyscraper: Every Generation Gets the Towering Inferno It Deserves

Skyscraper: Every Generation Gets the Towering Inferno It Deserves

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

In 1975, it took two studios to make The Towering Inferno. With a star-studded cast that included Paul Newman, Faye Dunaway, Steve McQueen and Fred Astaire, Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox made the disaster movie to end all disaster movies. Now, in 2018, Legendary Entertainment brings us Skyscraper. Though this version’s building is almost comically huge, the cast is much smaller. Here, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson takes over hero duties as William Sawyer, ex-FBI agent and current building security expert. Rather than save a whole banquet room full of people, Sawyer is just trying to save his family from the burning building and the group of gangsters who started the fire. However, despite the smaller scale, Skyscraper is a near-perfect summer action flick.

Dwayne Johnson has made a career of playing heroes, but Skyscraper feels like a new approach. While many of his characters have been badass for the sake of being badass, Sawyer is a just regular guy. The first thing we see him do is lose a leg in a mission gone wrong, so he’s not invincible, but he’s still superhuman. We’ve all seen the moment in the trailer when Johnson jumps from a crane to one of the building’s floors a hundred stories up. But what keeps the character grounded is his motivations. Like Die Hard’s John McClane before him, Sawyer is only building jumping for his family and Johnson gives the character a desperation and vulnerability that makes even the most insane stunts feel somewhat grounded in reality.

It also helps that Johnson isn’t the only hero here. Neve Campbell, who plays his wife Sarah, is almost equally badass. Johnson’s love interests are usually much younger, so it’s refreshing to see him paired with not just a woman his own age but one who seems equally capable in a tough situation. Sarah is the Navy surgeon who operated on Sawyer after the accident that opens the film, so she’s calm under pressure. When the fire starts, she preps the kids to avoid smoke inhalation. When a bad guy pulls a gun on her, she disarms him. And when the police stop speaking English while they discuss whether she might be in on the bad guys’ plot, she not only understands what they’re saying, but figures out the plot for them. It’s frankly refreshing to see an actress Campbell’s age in the role and writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber is smart to make Sarah more than just a damsel in distress.

Thurber’s biggest strength, though, is how sadistic he makes the action. A good disaster movie should be a little cruel. Unfortunately, by basically restricting the people we care about to the four members of the Sawyer family, Thurber greatly limits the potential for tension. We know this movie wouldn’t be mean enough to kill one of the children and while one of the parents could be expendable, it would put a bit of a damper on what’s otherwise light summer fare. Regardless, just because we know the characters will probably survive doesn’t make it any less fun to watch the ways the film puts them in danger. Possibly the best moment comes in the middle when, after finally being reunited, Thurber finds a way to separate each family member in to a different part of a burning room, leaving Will to find a way to save each one.

There and elsewhere, the obstacles the Sawyer family face can feel like tasks in a video game—each completed mini-mission leads to the next until there’s a final boss battle. While that structure effectively creates tension, it also emphasizes how ridiculous it all is. Some of the torture Thurber puts Will Sawyer through is downright absurd and the way he MacGyver’s his way through them are even sillier. The man jumps off a crane for Christ’s sake and it’s not even the most superhuman bit of action Johnson has to make us believe is possible.

Skyscraper is undeniably stupid, but it works because it’s not afraid to be stupid. Thurber sets that giant building on fire and then turns it into a sadistic playground. Sure, the crime syndicate intrigue plot ultimately distracts from the fiery mayhem, but there’s something comforting in the simple premise of a man trying to save his family from a burning building. After all, if Dwayne Johnson can jump into the 100th floor of a burning building and live to save his kickass wife and their children, then maybe we’ve all got a chance of surviving this crazy world too.

Rating: 8.5/10

Skyscraper is playing in theaters nationwide.

Marisa Carpico
Marisa Carpico
By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to.

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