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Film / Skyscraper

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"The Pearl is the tallest, most advanced building in the world. You’ve built a vertical city, but you’ve brought with it every single safety and security challenge that I could think of. Not only have you brought them all indoors, but you’ve trapped them two hundred and forty floors in the air. No one really knows what would happen if things go wrong. But I’m just a glorified security guard, so what the hell do I know anyway?"
Will Sawyer

Skyscraper is a 2018 action thriller film from director Rawson Marshall Thurber. It stars Dwayne Johnson (marking his second collaboration with Thurber), Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Moller, and Pablo Schreiber.

Will Sawyer (Johnson) is a former FBI agent who is now an amputee following an incident during a hostage situation. Thanks to connections from his friend Ben (Schreiber), Will's small security company landed a large job: signing off on the safety and security settings for The Pearl, a massive skyscraper in Hong Kong with highly advanced technological developments, before the higher-up residential floors open for tenants. A terrorist team breaks into the building, trapping Will's wife and kids high up as fire spreads. Framed for the crime, Will races to save his family, and clear his name.

Think Die Hard meets The Towering Inferno, with a dash of The Fugitive for spice.

Tropes featured in Skyscraper include:

  • Action Mom: Sarah is a surprisingly realistic example. She has two children with Will, and her time in the Navy has ensured she is a skilled fighter, and she is more than willing to use cheap shots or improvised weapons when faced with larger or more highly trained opponents.
  • Actor Allusion: This is not the first time Dwayne Johnson's heroic lead has had to improvise bandages from duct tape. He also did so in Rampage.
  • Arcology: The Pearl is a gigantic top-of-the-line super-scraper with its own wind generator to provide power independently, as well as its own residential section complete with park and mall. Will and his family, as part of Sawyer's work as a security consultant for the building, move in as its official first inhabitants.
  • Artistic License – Chemistry: Unless the Pearl's active fire protection systems use chemical components other than CO2, having such extensive systems flood the rooms, already dealing with intense oxygen-consuming blazes, with fire-extinguishing gases would quickly deprive those still inside the building of the remaining oxygen.
  • Badass and Child Duo: Will and his daughter Georgia, especially after the Big Bad calmly tells Will he will throw Georgia off the roof.
  • Bad Boss: Botha, unsurprisingly. He sanctioned Skinny Hacker's death as part of his plan (or at least gave Xia permission), and when Zhao tries to bargain his way out, requesting a parachute for the MacGuffin, Botha complies by making one of his men give his up at gunpoint, not caring this will leave the man stuck on the roof of a burning skyscraper with no way out.
  • Battle Couple: A long distance example in Sarah and Will. Sarah helps to destroy Botha's plan from outside the Pearl while Will deals with Botha directly. They do share a moment as this trope together when they knock Mr. Pierce off the bridge.
  • Benevolent Boss: Zhao is not technically Will's boss, but his actions are this. When everything goes to hell, he tries to get Sawyer's family to safety when he realises that they are still in the Pearl, and later co-operates wholeheartedly with Will's plan to save Georgia, even saving his life in the last battle.
  • Big Bad: Kores Botha.
  • Big Bad Friend: When Will tells his best friend and former FBI colleague Ben whom he considers a 'brother' that he removed the tablet from his stolen bag and still has it, Ben laments, drawing his weapon on Will revealing he helped orchestrate the terrorist plot on the building but did not mean for his family to get trapped inside. It is a bit of a subversion since Ben winds up being the first of the villains to die.
  • Borrowed Biometric Bypass: A device with full admin access to the security system uses a facial biometric scanner as its authentication system. Fortunately, this means that the legitimate user does not lose any body parts over this.
  • Bulletproof Human Shield: Will manages to escape Xia (and the police) by putting one of Xia's men into the line of gunfire and slipping into a doorway.
  • The Cameo: Tzi Ma pops up as the Hong Kong fire chief.
  • Call-Back:
    • The line about turning something off and on again gets repeated when Sarah does this to the Pearl.
    • Zhao's line, "I'm over there" while Will looks at a screen with him on it gets referenced when Will says, "I'm behind you" to Botha, who is doing the same, before killing him.
  • Career-Ending Injury: Will loses his leg to a hostage situation gone wrong - it is what leads him to leave the FBI and become a private security contractor.
  • The Cavalry: The police show up (coincidentally) just in time to stop Xia from shooting Will after taking his tablet.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Will notes the jian sword in Zhao's penthouse, which he puts to use later.
    • Zhao's virtual reality Hall of Mirrors (see below).
  • Chekhov's Skill: Sarah turns out to be fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese, putting one over on the police inspectors. She mentions that she minored in East Asian languages earlier.
  • Climbing Climax: Multiple, including having to climb the building that holds the construction crane to get into the Pearl and then climbing the outside of the Pearl itself later.
  • Clear My Name: Will has to do this all by himself, evading police officers to get to the Pearl by crane.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Zhao. He allowed Botha to take his payment but attached a program that named every account into which the money went and to whom it belonged so that he could expose them. But on top of that, he predicted Botha coming back for him after finding this out and built himself a panic penthouse. The penthouse’s only other control requires climbing outside the building via the wind power turbines to access.
  • Dark Action Girl: Botha's female lieutenant Xia. She kills numerous police officers and security guards throughout (including two at the control facility she effortlessly demolishes with a mixture of martial arts and gunfire) and only doesn't kill Sarah due to being distracted by Inspector Wu.
  • Dead Man's Switch: The reason Botha cannot just off Zhao but needs the original drive with its encryptions.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Zhao tells Will his tablet, once it has his biometric authentication, will give him full admin access to the building. Anyone who works in IT would figure on fingerprint and retina or fingerprint and PIN. But no: a simple scan of his face unlocks the tablet completely. Two-factor authentication would have prevented the whole thing. Not to mention that most commercially tablets have a feature that can re-lock the system automatically if it goes unused for a few minutes, so if that setting had been enabled, the tablet would have been useless by the time they actually got to the remote site after taking it away from Will.
  • "Die Hard" on an X: Die Hard on a skyscraper (duh!), with the twist that there are elements of The Towering Inferno added as well (gigantic super-tech super-scraper on fire... because the villains were crazy enough to set the building ablaze to keep the cops away).
    • Lampshaded in the deleted scene "Try Hard."
    Zhao: So, what's the plan?
    Sawyer: I don't know. Just call [bleep] Bruce Willis.
  • Disney Villain Death: Subverted with Botha. Will kicks him over a ledge, but a grenade he is holding blows him up, removing any uncertainty of his death. Played straight with Pierce, however.
  • Don't Look Down: Skyscraper makes this a consistent Running Gag.
  • The Dragon:
  • Duct Tape for Everything: Will uses it to patch up a wound, even remarking that if duct tape is not working, you need to use more. Later he makes improvised gloves with the adhesive facing outward to help scale the outside towards the wind turbines.
  • Elevator Failure: The terrorists manually overrode the elevators, allowing them free access to every floor on the building while hampering the good guys at every opportunity.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Ben gives Will's family tickets to see the pandas at night, indicating he didn't want them anywhere near the Pearl when Botha's plan took place. His dying conversation with Will also implies that he didn't want to see Will killed, just ruined.
  • Evil Brit: Mr Pierce, to the point of being almost Obviously Evil.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Apart from the opening introduction, the film starts in the morning, the evil plot gets underway in the afternoon, and the main action takes place overnight, all within 24 hours.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Botha is friendly with Sawyer's family when posing as a maintenance worker, right before ordering the fire lit to kill them. Later when he meets Sawyer and his daughter Georgia, he gives an Ironic Echo to her from their earlier meeting. He stops being friendly right afterwards and takes Georgia hostage after beating him up.
  • Florence Nightingale Effect: Sarah was a Navy doctor who treated FBI Agent Will for his injuries after the hostage situation went bad. Ten years later, they are married with kids.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: The international crime syndicates which Botha works for.
  • Hall of Mirrors: Zhao showcases this feature to Will in The Pearl, playing as a key feature in the final battle.
  • Handicapped Badass: Will may be missing his left leg, but even when he briefly loses his prosthetic, he proves he can still kick his opponent's ass.
  • Hanging by the Fingers: One of the scarier examples put on film, where Will ends up hanging from the top of The Pearl — a building said to be taller than the Burj Khalifa — in order to infiltrate the Safe Room.
  • I Have Your Wife: A wife and two kids trapped in a burning building with a bunch of terrorists? You could have a separate page for the trope.
  • Have You Tried Rebooting?: A Brick Joke with Sarah hesitating to do it to her smartphone at the beginning of the movie and doing it at the end of the film to the whole skyscraper. Successfully.
  • Head Smashes Screen: Will Sawyer faces his Evil Former Friend, Ben, and in the ensuing struggle Ben kicks Will head-first into Will's widescreen television. Will shrugs off the attack and kills Ben in a Gun Struggle a couple seconds later.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Due to the tablet's theft and his biometrics being on it, Will ends up the scapegoat for the Pearl's fire and the suspected terrorist activity. The police are suspicious. Inspector Wu is uncertain. But the crowd outside the Pearl watching Will climb a crane and risk his life to get into the building decide he is the good guy and begin cheering for his every victory. They root for him until he is safely back on the ground.
  • "Hey, You!" Haymaker: After the police arrest Xia, Sarah managed to get her attention and kick her in the face.
  • Hollywood Hacking: Mostly averted. Skinny Hacker needs the already unlocked device with the proper admin credentials to take over the security systems. A Freeze-Frame Bonus shows him running Python scripts. Then it plays straight when he claims he encrypted the system so that only he can unlock it. And then he gets killed by Xia, who's now holding the only device that can control the building's security systems.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Xia's pistol sounds suppressed even though she never uses a silencer.
  • Inconvenient Parachute Deployment: Will takes out one of Botha's goons in the climactic fight by opening his parachute and letting the jet stream drag him out of one of the holes the villains' grenades have opened on The Pearl.
  • Indy Hat Roll: While hats are not involved in this instance, the four remaining goons pursue Will and dive roll under the descending dome into the hall of mirrors video room when chasing after the MacGuffin.
  • I Have Your Wife: Botha takes Will's daughter Georgia away from Will, wanting him to use this as motivation to open the penthouse doors that Zhao is hiding in.
  • Kick The Son Of A Bitch: Or Kick the Bitch in this case, as Sarah makes a point of knocking out Xia after she'd surrendered. Given all the people she had killed by that point, it was well-deserved.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: Continuing from above, Xia quickly knew that she had no way out when the lead officer cornered her and had his firearm trained on her.
  • Locked Door: Subverted - Will takes a sledgehammer, intent on using it to open the door to control the crane, then he checks the door and notices it unlocked.
  • MacGuffin: Zhao's portable hard drive containing the identities and bank accounts of Botha's employers.
  • Made of Iron: All the battering Will takes, and he can still fight. Talk about Heroic WillPower...
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: Played ruthlessly straight with the villains. All the dozens of male bad guys die off in numerous ways while Xia, the lone woman is merely momentarily knocked out and then led away in handcuffs.
  • Moody Trailer Cover Song: Commercials for the movie used a slow cover of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down."
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The "glorified security guard" insult and the page quote clapping back at it do not show in the film at all.
  • Not My Driver: When Zhao tries to escape, his bodyguard Ajani looks at the helicopter and says, "That's not our pilot", leading to a shootout.
  • Papa Wolf: Will Sawyer will do anything to keep his family safe.
  • Precision F-Strike: Botha threatens to throw Georgia "off the fucking roof".
  • Red Herring: Early on, Zhao mentions to his weaselly insurance advisor that the Pearl has the most lucrative insurance policy of any building on the planet. The audience is thus likely to conclude that Zhao, being a shady multi-billionaire, has himself hired the terrorists to destroy his own building to collect the insurance money. Zhao is completely innocent; the insurance guy is the one in on the Evil Plan.
  • Red Shirt Army: More Hong Kong police die than you would expect in a high-rise heist movie involving a building that barely has any people in the floors of plot importance (thanks to the villain’s plans outside the building). Zhao's crew of bodyguards also only do nothing but die.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Inspector Wu is pretty on the ball and willing to give the protagonists the benefit of the doubt.
  • Shout-Out: Aside from the obvious Die Hard references, the final fight with Botha involving a Hall of Mirrors is inspired by Enter the Dragon's climax.
  • Silver Fox: As part of the "too old for this shit" general look that he's supposed to have, Will Sawyer (and thus Dwayne Johnson) has a salt-and-pepper coloring on his beard.
  • Slow Doors: Used twice; the first for Zhao Liao Ji to evade Botha and his henchmen, and the second for Will, who uses his prosthetic to get himself through the doors.
  • Spanner in the Works:
    • Will and his family both prove this to Ben's attempts to keep things relatively bloodless - Will by keeping the tablet on himself rather than in the bag Ben intended to have stolen in a fake robbery, and his family by returning to the Pearl as Botha's team move in, when they should be seeing pandas at the zoo.
    • Also, Zhao's dying bodyguard manages to nail the helicopter pilot, destroying the craft and complicating the villain's escape plan.
  • Swiss-Cheese Security: A couple of examples.
    • An external security consultant is given a device with enough privileges to not only control everything, but also to lock out all other admins, including the person who designed the system. The device also lacks a timeout feature; it only needs unlocking once to gain full admin access.
    • The security personnel know that a major crime syndicate is after him, yet they do not verify that the helicopter pilot's identity until it's too late.
    • A fake maintenance crew is able to spread flammable powder on an entire floor without raising any suspicion. Noticeable in that this happens before the terrorists take over the off-site security facility (which should have spotted this on their security cameras).
    • The entire top half of the world's largest building has approximately four security guards. Even considering that the top half was not open to residents yet, Zhao still lives there and keeps his most precious possession there and he knows that big-time criminal players are after him.
    • A single cable easily severed with an axe holds the entire elevator in the vertical garden aloft, and when the cable breaks the elevator doesn't employ an automatic braking system, but rather waits around for the elevator occupants to manually hit the brakes during free-fall.
    • The super-secure panic-room penthouse doors will open themselves if you cut a completely random wire behind the wind turbines. Why these two systems would be remotely related to each other is anyone's guess.
    • The penthouse has impenetrable doors, but Will states that the doors will open if the fire alarm goes off on that floor. So, all a bad guy must do is pull the fire alarm, and he is in there! (A proper system should only open if a fire alarm goes off from within the panic room.)
  • Too Dumb to Live: The janitor who sees a crack appear in the wall. It suddenly becomes a gaping hole, very quietly. And he goes to investigate as if he were remotely prepared to deal with whatever did this. He is dead in seconds thanks to the henchmen.
  • The Tower: The Pearl.
  • Unflinching Walk: When the police arrive to interrupt her stealing the tablet from Will, Xia calmly and unhurriedly walks back to her vehicle as a major gunfight erupts, not even breaking stride as she shoots back.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Although they managed to survive the failed hostage rescue, Ben turned over to the dark side, feeling that his buddy Will 'got lucky' from it.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Zhao asks Botha this. Botha responds that he wants to force Botha to watch his precious Pearl burn as he takes him away.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Botha threatens to throw Georgia off the roof and later, threatens to blow her up if Will does not give him the hard drive.
    • Also, at the beginning of the film, with the failed hostage rescue, the man who detonates his bomb vest with his son present.
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: Will's reaction when he realizes that the emergency system panel he needs to access is on the outside of the building, behind the giant wind turbine.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Skinny Hacker after hacking into The Pearl's security system. He even utters proudly that he has become the only human on Earth capable of undoing his work. Xia simply shoots him to tie up that loose end.

"My family is the only thing that matters to me right now."