Skyscraper movie review

SKYSCRAPER

Director : Rawson Marshall Thurber
Cast : Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Møller, McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell, Noah Taylor, Byron Mann, Pablo Schreiber, Hannah Quinlivan, Adrian Holmes
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 103 mins
Opens : 12 July 2018
Rating : PG-13

The Rock gets acquainted with glass and steel in this action thriller set in – you guessed it – a skyscraper.

Dwayne Johnson plays Will Sawyer, a former FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader who lost his leg during a mission gone wrong, and who now works as a building security assessor. Will’s family, including his wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and twins Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell), are flown out to Hong Kong for his new assignment. The upper floors of the tallest building in the world, the Pearl, are about to open for business, pending Will’s assessment. The Pearl stands almost 1.07 km tall, dwarfing Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. Will and his family are the guests of the Pearl’s billionaire owner, Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han), and they are the building’s first residents.

Naturally, things don’t go according to plan. Will finds himself on the run from the authorities as the building is broken into and set on fire. A team of dangerous mercenaries led by Kores Botha (Roland Møller) has infiltrated the Pearl and disabled its security and fire safety systems. Sarah, Georgia and Henry are trapped in the building, and Will must get to them before it’s too late. Botha will stop at nothing at nothing to get what he wants from Zhao, and a man who wants to save his family it’s all that’s standing in his way.

This summer movie season, Skyscraper is the only major tentpole studio release that is not a sequel. That said, it is the furthest thing from original possible – not to belabour the point, but this movie might as well be called ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Die Hard’. There already exists a Die Hard knockoff named Skyscraper, starring the late Anna-Nicole Smith.

Skyscraper feels out of place amidst the giant franchise entries that have dominated and will continue to dominate the box office this summer, but that is key to its charm. It feels like a movie straight out of the 90s in a very welcome way. That’s due in part to the well-worn premise, but also to its star being the closest thing we have to the larger-than-life action heroes of the 80s and 90s.

This reviewer did not enjoy director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s previous Johnson-starring film, the buddy comedy Central Intelligence. As such, it’s surprising just how well Skyscraper is directed. The script, also written by Thurber, seems to have been reconstituted from a “just add water” action movie premix. However, the film moves with great finesse and Thurber leads audiences from one edge-of-your-seat action set-piece straight on to the next, generating breathless thrills despite the overwhelming silliness of the whole affair. Veteran production designer Jim Bissell gets to show off with the gleaming futurism of the Pearl – there’s even a high tech maze of mirrors of sorts.

What’s left to say about Johnson’s abilities as a leading man that hasn’t already been covered in countless other reviews? He’s not quite an everyman the way Bruce Willis’s John McClane started out, but he’s still got that disarming charm – Will quips about the magical properties of duct tape while stuck in the middle of a crisis. Will performs spectacular feats of implausibility, one after the other. The leap from a crane to the building has already been lampooned ever since it was made a central feature of the poster and has become a meme unto itself. Part of the joy of Skyscraper is accepting the ludicrousness and focusing on Johnson at the centre of said ludicrousness.

The script struggles to make Campbell’s Sarah more than the ‘designated wife’ so often seen in these movies, and mostly succeeds. Sarah is a Navy combat medic and can hold her own in some harrowing situations. There is a nigh-excessive degree of imperilling children in the film, but hey, these kids have the Rock as their dad. That’s a guarantee it’s going to work out all right.

Chin Han’s Zhao is perhaps a touch egotistical – you must be to build the tallest building in the world – and just might be hiding something. It’s the standard ‘rich guy you’re meant to suspect’ archetype and he does seem to enjoy strutting across the well-appointed penthouse set.

This movie’s villains were shipped in straight from Movie Bad Guys “R” Us. There are Euro-mercenaries sporting a variety of accents, led by Møller’s Kores Botha (what a great villain name). Then there are a bunch of local hires too, since this takes place in Hong Kong, including Hannah Quinlivan as a lethal leather-clad henchwoman. It’s all, to use that word again, quite ridiculous – but it’s never not entertaining.

Skyscraper genuinely reminds this reviewer of the action movies he enjoyed growing up. Sure, it’s stupid, but it’s hard to go too wrong with Johnson leading the charge. Surprisingly, it leans into its genre-ness more than Rampage, also starring Johnson, did earlier this year. As a Die Hard-style movie that could’ve easily gone straight-to-DVD but instead has a $125 million budget and stars the Rock, it works.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

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Ghost in the Shell (2017)

For F*** Magazine

GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017)

Director : Rupert Sanders
Cast : Scarlett Johansson, Takeshi Kitano, Pilou Asbæk, Michael Pitt, Chin Han, Juliette Binoche, Peter Ferdinando
Genre : Sci-fi/Action
Run Time : 1h 47min
Opens : 30 March 2017
Rating : PG-13

“Oh boy.”

That’s the common reaction when the live-action Hollywood adaptation of Ghost in the Shell is mentioned. There’s a cybernetically-enhanced elephant in the room, (it’s got retractable metal tusks) but we’ll get to that later.

It is the future, and robot technology has become commonplace, many humans augmenting themselves with cybernetic implants. Hanka Robotics has gone a big step further, implanting a human mind into a fully synthetic robot body. The result is Major Mira Killian (Johansson), whose creation was overseen by Dr. Ouélet (Binoche). The Major works for the Section 9 task force, under the command of Chief Daisuke Aramaki (Kitano). Alongside her colleagues Batou (Asbæk) and Togusa (Chin Han), the Major must hunt down a shadowy villain named Kuze (Pitt), who has been remotely hacking Hanka’s products, making various robots turn on their owners. At the same time, the Major is haunted by visions of a burning pagoda, and seeks to piece together the mystery of her former, human existence.

The elephant is on its way – hear that synth-tinged trumpeting? First, some background: Ghost in the Shell is based on Masamune Shirow’s manga, first published in 1989. The manga was adapted into an anime film directed by Mamoru Oshii in 1995, and has since spawned other films, anime television series and video games. Ghost in the Shell rode the cyberpunk wave of the 90s, and has proven to be a deeply influential work. It was one of the main inspirations for The Matrix – the Wachowski siblings reportedly screened the 1995 film for producer Joel Silver, saying “we want to do that, but for real”.

One of the myriad issues with this adaptation is that it’s late to its own party. Filmgoers have seen similar futuristic cityscapes and high-tech prosthetics in other sci-fi films. It’s akin to how John Carter arrived around 100 years after its source material was written, with Star Wars and Avatar among others having become popular in the intervening years. There are plenty of eye-catching visuals in this take on Ghost in the Shell, but one gets the sense that director Rupert Sanders is dutifully duplicating the imagery from Oshii’s anime film, divorcing those images of their intended impact.

And now, the elephant. The protagonist was originally named Major Motoko Kusanagi, and the casting of Johansson led to widespread outrage, making ‘whitewashing’ a household phrase – even though it’s something Hollywood has done for years. Here is an action heroine in a big-budget movie, a role that could’ve and should’ve been played by an Asian actress, but a white actress was cast instead for box office appeal. Some make the argument that Motoko has no assigned race, as she is an android, and that ‘Motoko Kusanagi’ is a pseudonym. By this logic, an Asian actress still could have played the part. If this were a movie about Catherine the Great, Boudicca or Joan of Arc, retaining the original historical context, that wouldn’t have been possible.

“Maybe it’s much ado about nothing,” this reviewer told himself, taking his seat during the screening. “Maybe it’ll be so much fun I won’t notice. Maybe it’s a non-issue”. It’s not. It’s a non-non-issue. It’s an issue. Because so much emphasis is placed on the Major unearthing her past and coming to terms with the life she had before her brain was plopped into a robot shell, questions of identity fuel the plot. Like it or not, race is a part of one’s identity – not the sole part, mind you, but depending on the person, a key one. Without giving too much away, the big plot twist carries with it some ghastly implications where race is concerned.

To be fair to Johansson, her casting makes sense on some levels. She has considerable action heroine cred from playing Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has been in sci-fi films like The Island and Lucy, and played an artificial intelligence construct in Her. While Johansson handles the fights well and gets to show off her toned physique in a skin-tight bodysuit, the Major is mostly confused rather than confident. While some episodes of Stand Alone Complex have hinted at it, Motoko’s back-story in the original Ghost in the Shell is not a driving force of the plot. By making the rediscovery of her past the Major’s primary motivation, screenwriters Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger have reduced the character to ‘Jason Bourne as the Terminator’.

Noted Japanese actor-director “Beat” Takeshi Kitano makes what is only his second appearance in a Hollywood film, after 1995’s Johnny Mnemonic. All his dialogue is in Japanese, he gets to retain his dignity and has a few moments of badassery. Asbæk is not as physically imposing as most fans would expect Batou to be, but he’s fine. Pitt’s role is minimal, his character being something of a composite of Kuze from Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig and the Puppet Master from the original manga run and the 1995 film. While there’s an attempt to make him sympathetic even as he carries out ruthless acts, we don’t get to know enough about the character to feel for him.

While not to the extent of 2014’s Godzilla, Ghost in the Shell is yet another Hollywood tentpole movie that wastes Binoche’s considerable talents as an actress. The character of Dr. Ouélet is comparable to Gary Oldman’s Dennett Norton in the RoboCop remake. A lot of this film reminded us of the RoboCop remake, only that was more fun. We also have Chin Han sporting a hairstyle that’s even more awkward than the one he had in Masters of the Sea. We did not know such a thing could be possible.

It may sound pretentious to scoff at a movie for “dumbing things down” for American audiences, but it’s hard to argue that this isn’t what Ghost in the Shell is doing. The source material’s heady themes of transcendence and the nature of consciousness are largely unmined, and the unfettered sexuality is neutered. Ah well, maybe there actually was an Asian actress in a co-lead role, but she was just cloaked in thermo-optic camouflage.

Summary: While it showcases familiar key visuals, Ghost in the Shell retrofits a Hollywood sci-fi action plot onto sophisticated source material. The negative buzz about casting a white actress as the protagonist is also fully warranted.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong