Kevin: Since we started this site several years ago, those of us who make up the Tough Guy Squad have done Tag Teams on classics such as “The Running Man,” “Above the Law,” “Over the Top,” “Face/Off,” and, for some reason, “Silent Rage.” However, we’ve never done a two-part Tag Team, but that was before CJ and I walked into the theater last week to watch Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s “Die Hard”/”Towering Inferno” mashup “Skyscraper.” While we were thoroughly entertained, we didn’t realize at the time how much we would have to say about it, but as you will see below, “Skyscraper” is the cinematic equivalent of a giant onion, with many, many layers for us to peel:
First of all CJ, I wanted to start by asking if any movie in history has ever contained so many instances of a character about to fall to their death, but then exhibiting superhuman gripping ability by grabbing on to a ledge with one hand? It’s such an integral part of the film that the entire ad campaign was built around the image of The Rock dangling off the building with one hand (and sorry ladies, but as you can see from the wedding ring, he’s taken).
And it’s not just The Rock either, as later on his wife, played by Neve Campbell, is about to take a plunge before gripping on to a thin wooden board, while her own son is gripping on to her. Multiple grips! The Rock even changes hands mid-grip, as he absolutely refuses to consider the possibility of using both hands to hold on with. Later on he covers his hands with duct tape in order to better grab on to the windows while scaling the building, but since he obviously secretes Super Glue from his hands I’m not sure why he bothered.
CJ: You’re actually forgetting the greatest example of gription of all, when The Rock monkey-bars his way underneath a crane, and then spins around and pulls himself up. Those are some strong fingers (in other news, congrats to The Rock’s wife!) But you know what The Rock didn’t have a grip on? The hostage situation in the opening scene (good one CJ!).
Speaking of, “Skyscraper” begins with a man who has taken his family hostage in a cabin. The police have the place surrounded but the hostage-taker has told them to piss off, so clearly it’s time to deploy what can best be described as spelunking SWAT members who descend from the trees. This was confusing, as the trees were about 10 feet from the cabin. So did they climb up the tree undetected, waiting to be deployed, because this makes zero tactical sense. Or logical sense.
Why not just have them up against the wall of the cabin? Does the SWAT leader tell them to climb up the trees, and if they have an emergency, they have to do a straight drop onto the ground and storm the house? Also, trees have all kinds of branches; what if someone slips and drops to their death? I guess it doesn’t matter, as The Rock’s team is called in and they quietly descend from the trees, huddle up against the cabin, carefully and quietly coordinate their next moves to catch the hostage-taker by surprise … and then immediately set explosives off against the wall, blowing a huge hole and storming in.
As The Rock tries to talk down the hostage-taker, the man puts down his son and reveals he has a bomb strapped to his chest, which he detonates. This kills the whole family that was kidnapped and The Rock loses his leg. On the plus side, he meets Neve Campbell, so I’m calling this a draw!
Kevin: I was also confused about the fact that when the authorities decided to send The Rock’s squad in, we see two of his men rappelling from the trees before panning back to also see that he and the rest of his men have been camouflaged and lying in wait less than 10 feet from the house. Again, why was it necessary for those two guys to do that, unless The Rock just thought it would look cool.
Then when they breach the house and discover the hostage-taker using his son as a shield, fellow SWAT member Pablo Schreiber says he has a shot at taking him out, which he clearly does and would end this whole standoff right now. But not only does The Rock tell him not to take the shot, but also for some stupid reason he tells his men to lower their weapons, which allows the hostage-taker to detonate his explosive vest. Great job Rock!
Hey remember in “Fast Five” when The Rock had a team of super badass ex-Navy Seals who all got killed off? And we thought it was weird that the government never gave him another team, so he had to constantly rely on Ludacris and Tyrese on every mission from then on? Maybe no matter who he plays, everyone knows that The Rock just has a history of getting his men killed for stupid reasons and no one wants to work for him.
CJ: Can you imagine what it must be like back at HQ when they dish out team assignments? The captain is just listing off names and their new leaders, then gets to “Smith, Hernandez, Jackson, you’re with The Rock,” at which point the room gets eerily silent as the other Marines just pat these guys on the back as if they’d just watched a baby gazelle get taken down by a lion. Meanwhile The Rock is like “Yes guys! This is gonna be great!” Except in this case he’s like the mother gazelle that dragged the baby, covered it in blood, punched it in the face, and tossed it into the lion’s den.
Kevin: So fast-forward 10 years and The Rock owns his own security company, is still super-buff despite being down half a leg, and has a great family life, with two kids who are ethnically ambiguous enough to pass as the offspring of The Rock and Neve Campbell. He’s in Hong Kong to interview for a lucrative consulting gig on the recommendation of his old pal Schreiber, and I have to say I find it refreshing that the movie didn’t even try to hide the fact that he was setting The Rock up to take the fall.
And honestly I was kind of with Schreiber on this. I mean if it had been his call to make that dude would never have blown himself up, and he was right to be pissed when The Rock is all, “Yeah I may have lost part of my leg in that explosion, but if that hadn’t happened I wouldn’t have a great wife and two kids.” I would have been like, “Yeah your bad call killed all of our teammates, left their children fatherless, and forced me to recover in agonizing pain, but I’m sooooooo glad it had a silver lining for you big guy.”
CJ: Yeah part of Schreiber’s plan is getting The Rock an interview with mysterious billionaire Zhao, the developer of The Pearl, which as we see is a horribly planned skyscraper that would crush half the city if it fell over. Do they ever talk about this? They mention fire suppression, wind turbines, greenery, lockdown protocols, but do they ever say what happens in an earthquake? Pretty sure when the “Geostorm” hits, The Pearl will not only fall over, but the massive pearl-shaped structure (get it?) at the top will roll off and crush everyone in its path as it makes its way across the country. But hey, Zhao wants the biggest building in the world because … uh …science?
Then The Rock gets to his big meeting, in which he will have fully evaluated the biggest building in the world. By himself. With no other experts. I need three IT guys to give me a new monitor at work, but Rocky here gets to a building four times the size of the Empire State Building, and apparently can eyeball this thing in a few days and all is well.
And his PowerPoint presentation must have been really impressive, because after The Rock says the place looks good and that all that’s left is for him to visit an off-site security facility, Zhao gives him an Amazon Fire tablet which scans his face. This now gives The Rock sole access to the site and, oh by the way, the ability to control all the security measures of The Pearl. Then Zhao throws him onto China’s version of the Staten Island Ferry with zero security guards to protect this vital piece of equipment and figures “now let’s not give this another thought.”
Kevin: Yeah I’m also confused about the whole process of how The Pearl came into being. We are told that it was the dream of Zhao’s to build the largest skyscraper in the world, and that The Pearl is twice as tall as the Burj Khalifa and four times as big as the Empire State Building. First of all, if I’m The Rock (please god make it happen!), I think I would not want my movie to draw attention to the Burj Khalifa, since Tom Cruise actually climbed that for his own movie, while the most danger The Rock was in during this would have been accidentally stubbing his toe on the green screen.
Even so, once they did the “twice as big as the Burj Khalifa” thing, I don’t think we needed “four times as tall as the Empire State Building.” Yeah we got it the first time, this fucker’s big. How long were they prepared to go with that? “It’s also 16 times as tall as the Capital Records building, and 48 times as tall as the downtown office headquarters of Liberty Mutual Insurance in St. Paul, Minnesota.”
I’m also unclear on what kind of oversight this thing has had. The news reports are all, “Since construction began everyone has wondered what is inside the building and how tall it will finally be, but we won’t know for sure until the safety inspection is completed.” So apparently this dude has been doing whatever he wants while building this monstrosity in the middle of downtown Hong King and the authorities have been powerless to do anything, but now of all of sudden they want to see a safety report before letting people live there (apparently they’ve already allowed a bunch of retail shops to open on the first 30-something floors)?
But don’t worry, they’re letting Zhao hire the person doing the inspection on his own building. Who just happens to be a good friend of one of Zhao’s employees, and who, as Schreiber makes sure to point out, was the lowest bidder. And yeah no shit he gave the lowest bid, since The Rock’s security company apparently consists of The Rock, and it is unclear where The Rock got his security expertise.
(Also, I guess the implication is that Schreiber was pushing his buddy The Rock for the job because he thought he would be totally incompetent, the same way Ed Harris wanted Gerard Butler to take over the weather-controlling system in “Geostorm” because he thought a hungover Scotsman would be a pushover in his plan for worldwide domination. Hey how’d that work out for ya’, Mr. Never Gonna Be President Cause Gerard Figured Out Your Plan To Kill Andy Garcia By Blowing Up the Democrat National Convention in Miami?)
And what happens if by some freak chance the building failed the security test? Would they just demolish it, thereby taking out half of Hong Kong when it is imploded? Either way, apparently the citizens of Hong Kong subscribe to Rosie O’Donnell’s “fire doesn’t melt steel” philosophy, because at the end when the upper half of this gargantuan tower is engulfed in flames, they are all standing around taking pictures right below, while I would be hauling ass to the next ferry to Shanghai before it came crumbling down.
CJ: I’m also a little concerned about China’s construction policy. So how does Zhao pitch this? Does he just show up, announce he’s building the biggest building in the world, a building which would cut the country’s population in half if it fell over, and then when they have follow-up questions he continually answers “No comment” … and they approve this??? If you leave your trash can three feet off the curb, not only do they fine you, but they still don’t pick up your trash! Meanwhile this asshole essentially gets to hold his city hostage and China basically lets him do whatever.
Kevin: And on the whole “let me give this guy I just met a tablet that would cripple my high-tech skyscraper if it got into the wrong hands” thing, man for a guy who has made enemies with every organized crime organization on the planet, Zhao is pretty fast and loose with his security. Which brings me to the fact that, in a throwback to the action movies of the ‘80s and ‘90s, the MacGuffin in “Skyscraper” is a flash drive.
Now correct me if I’m wrong CJ, but in order to build something in Hong Kong, Zhao had to pay extortion money to organized crime outfits (shocking, I know). Apparently the main bad guy Botha was the middleman, and Zhao traced the payments to him and uncovered the identities of the entities exhorting him, which he now has on a flash drive that he keeps as insurance (unless he gives it to his nephew to keep under his pillow or something, which is not unlikely considering his approach to security). So Botha is basically trying to get the drive back, because if his employers find out about this they’d kill him.
But why would they care? I mean if these groups are shaking down one of the richest men in the world, I’m pretty sure Interpol and the CIA and MI-5 are already on to them. Are these powerful criminal groups afraid of having their good names publicly tarnished? Unless of course the Clinton Foundation is on that list, in which case Zhao has cause to fear for his life.
Now Botha’s plan is to start a fire on the 96th floor, thereby trapping Zhao above, forcing him to give up the drive, and then parachuting off the roof with his men. There is a great scene later on where Neve Campbell, who might as well take over the Hong Kong police department since she is better at their jobs than any of them, figures this out by remembering that one of the bad guys had a bag with a logo for a parachute company. The two lead detectives then estimate a radius in which they could land and where realistic landing points would be, of which there are like five.
After eliminating three of them, Neve is like, “What about this one?,” to which the bitchy female detective is all, “Oh this, this is just a huge deserted construction site belonging to Zhao (the one The Rock was heading to earlier), anyway, why are we listening to this woman again?”
CJ: First off, on a personal note, Neve Campbell was my first ever celebrity crush – I even got an autograph from her from my friend’s mom who used the same trainer as her (thanks Mike!). So for me, it was just nice seeing Julia Salinger back on the screen.
Anyway, I know we are getting ahead of ourselves in the plot, but I wanted to also discuss Neve and that female detective. First of all, the cops in this movie really suck, and I feel like they could be in charge of Whoville and still be wildly perplexed as to what happened to the Christmas gifts. But as you said Kevin, the cops are like “clearly the bad guys need a giant empty space that is easy to land in,” and when Neve is like “how about this giant empty space on the map that looks easy to land in,” they are all “Shut up whore!”
Actually out of everyone in the film, Campbell’s character generally makes the smartest and most logical moves. Kid’s got asthma? Soak some towels in water.
Random Scandinavian HVAC guys appear out of nowhere to provide “maintenance” despite a lack of tools? Pop a small pair of scissors in your pocket, just in case.
Son and daughter get split up in a towering inferno? Leave them both. These little assholes are the reason you’re in this mess to begin with, and they need to learn consequences.
Meanwhile we have The Rock, who after getting in a fight with Schreiber, accidentally shoots the guy who put his wife and children in danger. What does he do then? He tries to save this jackass!
Kevin: I will say that while I liked that they didn’t treat Schreiber’s double-cross as a “shocking” twist at the end, when they killed him off they eliminated the only interesting antagonist in the film. They should have kept him around since he is fun to watch and had an understandable motivation, and his fight with The Rock in his apartment is easily the best action scene in the film. Meanwhile the main villain is kind of a zero, but he does hearken back to a time in action films when the main requirement for any villain was that he be somewhat European.
CJ: So after Pablo dies we fast forward 10 minutes or 6 hours, I really don’t know how time works in China or movies. Either way, The Rock is trying to get to The Pearl to save his family, and while watching things unfold on random TVs his image appears as a “Wanted Criminal.” This leads to possibly the greatest train of thought ever: multiple Chinese cops looking at the six-foot-five, 260-pound literal human version of the Hulk Buster armor, and they are like “Let’s lead off by all shouting at him in a foreign language, making very aggressive movements, and pointing our guns at him, that’ll calm him down!”
Now obviously this works like a charm, The Rock gives himself up, and everyone works together to solve this crime. Actually instead, Rock just stares blankly at everyone, kicks their ass, and then sings out “America, Fuck Yeah!” as he runs as fast as a guy with one leg can. Which apparently is on par with Usain Bolt, who we all know trains by becoming a gigantic Polynesian wrestler.
Kevin: So when The Rock gets to The Pearl, he notices there is a construction crane conveniently situated right next to it and above the fire line on the 96th floor. Of course this also means that The Rock has to climb more than 96 floors of steel girders to the top of the crane, which he manages to do in what seems like 10 minutes despite having use of only one leg. Then once he is at the top he somehow immediately knows how to operate the crane, including turning it all the way around, extending its bridge, and releasing the hook so that it will attach itself to the building.
Now bear in mind that at no point do we hear about any sort of construction experience in The Rock’s backstory. All we are privy to is that he previously worked hostage rescue, and before that was a Marine. Yet the beauty of looking like The Rock is that he can demonstrate heretofore unknown knowledge of complex construction equipment and we buy it completely, even though in real life The Rock is mainly known for being a football player, a wrestler, and then movie star, all of which are somewhat removed from the usual battle-hardened former military men he usually plays.
You know who actually was a Marine and deployed in Afghanistan in real life? Comedian Rob Riggle. Yet if Rob Riggle starred in “Skyscraper” and out of nowhere started operating a giant crane like The Rock does in this, everyone would think it’s absurd.
You know what else is absurd? The fact that we’ve talked this much about the movie and haven’t even gotten to the part where The Rock actually gets back into the fucking skyscraper! Since there is obviously still a lot more to discuss, let’s save that for Part 2 later this week, in which we:
– Wonder if “Will Sawyer” is the kind of character name you would normally associate with The Rock.
– Marvel at how The Rock’s disability doesn’t affect him in any way, except for the couple of times when the movie requires it to.
– Salute the many uses of duct tape in thwarting a complex and heavily planned terrorist attack.
– And finally find out what’s inside that giant pearl that everyone has been speculating about (spoiler alert: it’s really fucking disappointing).