52 weeks of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson: week 28
Hello everyone. How are things?
Last weekend I saw Skyscraper, The Rock’s latest film, about a former FBI agent forced to clamber up to the top of the tallest building in the world after terrorists start a fire and his family are trapped on the 96th floor. I saw it in the manner in which all films should be seen: in a reclining seat, with my feet up and a massive Coke and a bag of popcorn beside me. I even paid to see it, which, given my job and the fact that I am routinely described as the Roger Ebert of my generation, is something close to an outrage.
Ladies and gentlemen, when the trailers ended and the motion picture began, I was troubled by what I saw. After about 15 minutes is spent establishing a back story that puts a bit of meat on the bones of the ensuing action, the rest of the film is two relentless and increasingly monotonous hours of The Rock jumping onto and swinging around an absolutely massive building. The plot is so ludicrous and the action so…ludicrous that the film ends up feeling more than a little ludicrous.
Films like this will always make good money, and we know that The Rock – the highest-paid actor in the world – is riding a wave so tall that people like myself don’t need any persuading to flock dead-eyed to the cinema just to share a few hours with him. This isn’t the point, really. Skyscraper made me feel things that I, a Rock chronicler and aficionado, didn’t want to feel on a Saturday night. The film may have been a white-knuckle ride calling at Funtown, Wow-On-Thames and OMG City, but very few people were there to watch it, and those that were…thought it was ridiculous. The people I saw it with thought it was so silly that I think it actually depressed them slightly.
I became worried and defensive of my sweet Dwayne. Does he realise that people are laughing at the film, not with it? Does he appreciate that when his character uses his prosthetic leg to prop open a door in a climactic moment, people don’t think it’s a heroic act worth cheering, but a gimmick inviting ridicule? I don’t think he does.
You see, we need to draw a line between films like Skyscraper and Fast and Furious 5 through 8. In the latter I think it is apparent that The Rock is performing his lines with a wink and a grin: given that his role involves kicking a torpedo off course and breaking the cast off his broken arm just by flexing his muscles, I have to believe that he realises what’s going on. I know that he is intelligent, self-aware, and savvy. I’m not sure he could have survived this long if he wasn’t.
But where does this self-awareness go for films like Skyscraper, which are so utterly unrealistic and straight-faced that the only rational response to them is to laugh? Does he do them just for the paycheque?
We know that we have to allow a certain level of artistic licence for the way that people behave in films. But Skyscraper comes close to being little more than a two-hour vehicle for less famous actors to watch The Rock doing things that are so stupidly impossible that the audience’s reaction isn’t “Wow” said in a sincere voice but “Wow” said in a sarcastic voice.
I worry about The Rock. And I think you should too. I worry that The Rock is now so dependable and so famous that directors are tempted to push his body to implausible lengths simply because CGI allows it. The way that people reacted to the Skyscraper poster proved that the wheels might already have been set in motion. We need to nip this trend in the bud before it becomes a feature of every other Dwayne Johnson film, and Johnson becomes infamous for the wrong reasons.
In future I would like to see him making far more intelligent and layered films, but that might be a conversation for another time. For now, let’s hope this is a blip. If it isn’t, I’m going to be losing a lot of sleep.
Stay hungry, stay humble.
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