If you listen, you will hear actors voicing fears about being typecast. It is usually a burly chap known for playing action heroes, who wants the world to see his acting chops. Having saved his on-screen family from many fictional disasters, this muscular fellow wants to show the world his emotional range extends beyond a quiet smoulder and an imperviousness to bullets.
Let’s face it though, the viewing public has no interest in watching a fully-clothed Jason Momoa type showing his sensitive side in an arthouse reboot of Romeo and Juliet. What we want is action, explosions and good, old-fashioned masculinity.
No one understands this better than the world’s highest-paid actor, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – and that is exactly why his latest film Skyscraper is so much fun.
Set in Hong Kong, Skyscraper is the story of a man’s mission to save his family against all odds. That last sentence needs to be read in a dramatic movie voice. The details of this mission are straightforward.
Johnson’s character, an ex-elite tactical military type, is hired by a reclusive billionaire to analyse security whatsits for a state-of-the-art skyscraper.
Some generic villains, one with the surname Botha, are not pleased with this building and set it on fire. Predictably Johnson’s very nuclear family is stuck inside and heroism ensues.
It’s easy for an even vaguely critical eye to spot plot holes, lazy writing and any number of faults with this movie. There is also the very obvious problem that Johnson has played more or less the same role for the past few years.
But none of this matters.
Walking into this movie expecting anything cerebral is like walking into McDonald’s and expecting to find a pleasant amuse-bouche on the menu. The problem with amuse-bouche is that it requires a certain type of palate, access to a particular kind of refinement and specific ease with culinary snobbery. McDonald’s has far fewer barriers to entry.
This, then, is the McDonald’s of movies. All it requires to enjoy is to leave your brain at the ticket booth for safe-keeping. If you insist on applying serious thought to Dwayne Johnson and his latest rendition of Dwayne Johnson: Manly Action Hero, then perhaps that cognitive energy should be directed at tropes, typecasting and the positive role they play in our cinematic lives.
We tend to look down our noses at clichés. It is cool to be refined and mildly snobby, to look at certain types of film as not worth our time or money. But not only are they worth our time and money, we throw both at formulaic, trite movies.
A big chunk of the reason why Johnson gets paid more than any actor in the world is because two of his last five movies have come close to, or surpassed, the billion-dollar mark at the box office. Critics may be unimpressed with his work but audiences clearly are not.
Things like originality, nuanced storytelling and all that other malarkey require us to engage our brains. People don’t always have time for that and this is a good thing.
The Zumas are in court, World Cup matches keep ending in penalties and your boss is most likely an a**hole. Formula-driven movies are a fun and safe space to throw a middle finger up at all of that and just spend 100 minutes watching a man leaping into flaming buildings because no emergency services are a match for his badassery.
Johnson understands this feature of human psychology and has opted to take on the thankless role of Chief Opiate of the Masses. He’s damn good at it. If you don’t believe me, wait till Skyscraper‘s box-office numbers come in.