The FBI agent-turn-safety assessor Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) is inspecting the world’s tallest, most impenetrable skyscraper (called The Pearl) in Hong Kong having been appointed by the building’s owner Zhao Min Shi (Chin Man). His happy fresh new start as a civilian, with his wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and their twin children, is under siege as a group of terrorists blow up floor 96, where the Sawyers live, to retrieve something from Zhao.
From the outset the film expects the audience to accept a lot of implausible circumstances – how does a former FBI agent and a former combat surgeon manage to live rent-free in a luxurious apartment (Sawyer is hired to work, he’s not assessing the building for charity), the motivation of his former partner, and the convoluted plot as to why they want to blow up the Skyscraper and kill its creator. That’s a lot of weight on the suspension of disbelief.
If one can accept these and other plot holes then the sort of death-defying leaps Sawyer and his prosthetic leg make from one wrecked block to another are held together only by gravity-defying movie logic. The film does indeed demand a lot of oversight and acceptance from its audience.
These flaws (they could irritate you as it did I) are tenuously masked by Johnson’s on-screen charisma and Campbell’s sincere performance. The family unit isn’t the most complex, going as far as to make the two children boy/girl twins for simpler storytelling. Both Campbell and Johnson exude marital affection, parental care, and kickassery against the terrorists. They’re not so much a double team kicking ass, but there is definitely no Damsel In Distress here.
The villains are carbon copies of every terrorist organisation we’ve seen from a 90s action film including a nondescript European villain (brilliantly over-performed by Roland Møller) and a devilish Brit (Noah Taylor). Even the techno mumbo jumbo to explain how The Pearl is self-sustained, and how our ragtag band of terrorists plan to infiltrate it appears to have come from a discarded 90s techno-thriller script. Dumb, but fun!
And director Rawson Marshall Thurber, better known for his comedies, appears to know this. Exposition is thrown away as the film knows the audience has shown up for burning buildings, and mind-numbing action, not the intricacies of the family unit or the Ocean’s-11 style heist.
Appreciation for carnage only display would warrant a trip to your local IMAX, with many effective top-angle, Vertigo-inducing shots. You may not fully buy into the peril but you could feel that vertigo.
Where the story really fails is in its climax. Aside from its lengthy runtime, most of it is set up very early on and is both obvious and insulting. Fans of the genre will either appreciate its on-the-nose delivery or will roll their eyes in disbelief. Either way, it’s established to tell audiences how the film will end. Campbell, in particular, delivers a groan-inducing call back making the whole experience feel cheap.
Going into this film you will have two choices: you can take in the visuals for what they are and enjoy the ride, or you quibble over the glaring plot holes the film expects you to ignore. In both cases, you will appreciate Johnson hobbling on a prosthetic leg for 90 mins.