Photo: Universal Studios

The tech in Dwayne Johnson’s ‘Skyscraper’ isn’t to code, but that’s the fun

When it comes to action heroes, Hollywood doesn’t usually choose the guy with a 143-point checklist and a granular understanding of access control systems. But in Skyscraper—the action flick critics are calling “Die Hard” meets “The Towering Inferno”—the man with the building plans is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Johnson plays Will Sawyer, an independent security expert hired to evaluate Hong Kong’s newest, tallest, techiest luxury building. When the 240-story tower is sabotaged, Sawyer relies on brains, his sizable brawn and a whole lot of duct tape.

This big, dumb, summer flick isn’t engineered for believability, but we couldn’t help but wonder if the people, platforms, and procedures it depicts live up to real-world specs. So, we enlisted our own security expert Michael Rozin, CEO of Rozin Security, for a consultation. Look out, there are significant spoilers ahead.

The evaluator

According to his former FBI teammate, Sawyer won the job because his bid came in lower than the others. Much lower. Less than half, actually. Putting aside how phenomenally bad he must be at running a business, we have to ask: is Sawyer qualified to take on this assignment? Rozin says, probably not.

“The brand, FBI, often is very sexy. When you think about an FBI agent, you think they must automatically be security ninjas,” said Rozin. Not so. FBI agents specialize. They’re investigators, forensic scientists or, in Sawyer’s case, SWAT operators. While corporations often hire former agents to lead their security organizations, technical evaluations are handled by specialists. Sawyer’s cut-rate pricing he probably wouldn’t have allowed for pricey contractors.

“You would not hire an FBI agent to do an inspection on your safety systems inside such a building.”

Rock realism rating: 

The biometrically-locked iPad

 Early in the movie, Sawyer is handed an iPad locked by facial recognition software and, once opens, controls all building systems. Once it’s in the villains’ hands, the iPad gives them complete control over the fire systems, alarms, access points and more.

Facial recognition software is commonplace—it’s standard with every new iPhone. And security personnel often use iPads to monitor building operations. But programming it to control the whole show is unrealistic and unwise. “That idea is not a good one,” Rozin said.

Rock realism rating: 

The remote operations center

Shortly after swiping the iPad, the villains invade a remote operating center where all building functions and metrics are monitored. Corporations usually outsource offsite monitoring, but it’s conceivable that the Chinese tech baron who built this structure would want to keep that data in-house, Rozin said.

What doesn’t track, though, is the setup. The center, secured with key card access, houses about a dozen technicians and a wall-to-wall screen that showed various building metrics. But it’s is relatively small, and the display is hardly cutting edge. Data centers often hire electronics companies like Sony and Panasonic to make floor-to-ceiling, 360-degree displays, Rozin said. “I’m not overly impressed,” he said of the movie version.

Rock realism rating: 

The emergency response procedures

Woe to those who put unwavering trust in tech. The building’s owner has such faith in his systems, that once the attack unfolds, he insists that its fire system will smother the inferno, and his team should just shelter in place.

“We learned from 9/11 that you have to, one way or the other, evacuate,” Rozin said. In this case, there are two clear paths to safety: a helicopter pad and working elevators.

“The elevators are uber-secure, and they’re fire resistant. Life is good. And yet somehow the idea is, “Well, let’s just stay above the fire to see what happens.”

Rock realism rating:  

The human factor

Finally, there are the people. While Sawyer may not be qualified as an assessor, he is a trained SWAT operator that impressed Rozin with his intuition and combat skills. In one scene, he convincingly disarms a gunman who, he informs, is standing too close. “You have to train for it, but it’s really easy to disarm a knife, a gun, a long weapon if you have a reach to it in close proximity,” Rozin said.

Likewise, Ji’s bodyguard—probably the only loyal soldier in his entourage—displays remarkable intuition, Rozin said. In one thrilling moment that we’ll not spoil, “he immediately orders a change in the course of action. Watch out. This is a setup.”

Rock realism rating:  

Final verdict

The key to enjoying Skyscraper is setting expectations no higher than the ground floor. It’s fun, if not faithful, and worth the price of admission. Just don’t expect to see yourself in Johnson’s over-the-top adventures.







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