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Skyscraper

Year: 2018
Production Co: Legendary
Studio: Universal
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Producer: Rawson Marshall Thurber/Beau Flynn/Dwayne Johnson
Writer: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Noah Taylor, Byron Mann

These movies are feeling like weekly instalments of the Dwayne Johnson show. They all have the same creative tone, the same wall-to-wall marketing and the same all-American heroism archetypes (soldier, cop, family man), all of them served up on a silver platter by the tungsten-powered smile, bulging tattooed muscles and self-depreciating humour of America's New Movie Star®.

And like the movies of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, Marvel, Denzel Washington's output lately and a hundred other cinematic franchises and institutions, it's all starting to feel a bit boring.

There's nothing inherently wrong with Skyscraper – it wears the homage to both The Towering Inferno and Die Hard on its sleeve – and this opinion isn't going to make much sense after the number of movies that do work when they references other eras and styles (like the maligned Exodus: Gods and Kings, which I seem to be the only fan of), but it just doesn't offer anything more.

Nobody really phones it in, exactly – Johnson can do this stuff in his sleep and director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Central Intelligence, We're The Millers) handles the action and thrills adequately. It ladles the CGI on a bit thick, but it's just that kind of film. It's decently enough structured, competently lit and staged and written as well as any big dumb summer movie, the requisite family/this-time-its-personal framework thrown in.

It just all feels a bit drab and colourless, something not even Johnson's pecs and pearly whites can save. Maybe it's down to your awareness the whole time that it's another of those custom jobs Hollywood constructs and ships to appeal to audiences in China (and probably court favour with Chinese film authorities).

Johnson is another hot-swappable hero (cop/soldier/whatever – this time he's an FBI hostage negotiator who loses his leg in the introductory coda) now making a living as a security consultant to big construction projects. His latest gig is The Pearl, the tallest office and residential tower in the world and nearing completion on the foreshores of Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong.

Some rent-a-villains are after some Macguffin in the penthouse safe of the industrialist owner, Zhao (Chin Han) so they start a fire, close down the fire control systems and set their dastardly plan in motion (aided by Noah Taylor of all people as a slimy insurance lawyer – whence the heady days of Shine?).

The problem is, Johnson's (the notion of 'character' is so indistinguishable behind the Johnson persona it's not even worth remember his onscreen name) wife (Neve Campbell – whence House of Cards?) and kids are trapped inside because the family's been living in the residential part of the tower prior to the official opening.

When Johnson's army buddy double crosses him and he realises what's going on up in the sky, the race is on not just to get inside the heavily locked down tower but take down the bad guys and save his family.

The locations give the movie a lot of set piece potential, from the giant construction crane next door and the environmentally controlled park hundreds of floors up to the enormous turbines that power some of the systems. The giant globe part at the top contains a vast VR platform, but where you'd expect a movie of this scale to do something even bigger in the climax, the final battle is just a bunch of people with guns sneaking through a digital hall of mirrors. It completely blows the potential of a giant 360º theatre a mile in the sky.

But while none of the set pieces are crafted badly, exactly, it's all just little better than what you've already seen done with more heart and soul 40 years ago in the Irwin Allen era.

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