Let’s address the elephant in the penthouse: since Die Hard reinvented action cinema in 1986, countless copies have littered the movie skyline. And now with the truly ridiculous Skyscraper we’ve come full circle: Die Hard in a Skyscraper, Again, Only This Time With the Rock.
The Rock — AKA Dwayne Johnson — plays a security expert trying to rescue his family from the world’s tallest building after it’s been set on fire by terrorists. As the building burns, Johnson battles terrorists hundreds of stories in the air using only several meters of duct tape and his melon-like biceps. Not so much a story as the Rock’s upper body workout with explosions CGI’d behind him, the movie pitches him into increasingly ridiculous situations — most of which involve dangling from great heights. Call it Dangle Hard.
Amid other summer blockbusters like, and , Skyscraper is that rare beast: not a . But calling it “original” is a bit of a stretch. It’s basically The Towering Inferno injected with a shot of testosterone — Die Hard for the age of the Burj Khalifa.
It’s also utter nonsense, obviously, but what else would you expect? Most big budget blockbusters are written by an army of screenwriters, making it hard to know which of the many cooks to blame for spoiling the broth. Unusually, Skyscraper is credited to just one man as writer and director, Rawson Marshall Thurber, which at least makes it easier to know who to blame for the film’s many ham-fisted storytelling choices.
Amid the cloying family subplots, ridiculous set pieces and endless cavalcade of ripe dialogue, the really telling problem is the lack of decent villains. Our hero spends more time tearing apart computer panels than bad guys, wrestling with subroutines instead of scoundrels. Even worse, Thurber insists on spending time introducing characters at length and then immediately offing them, meaning there’s no one with any trace of personality on screen for most of the runtime. Die Hard’s suave villain Hans Gruber has never been so sorely missed.
It doesn’t help that the camera crowds the actors, so it can be tough to work out the space in which the characters are moving.
Fortunately Skyscraper has a solid foundation in Johnson, who once again proves how reliably entertaining he is. Cleverly, Johnson’s all-action hero has a compelling everyman vulnerability thanks to his heartwarming dedication to his family and the fact he’s an amputee. As his artificial leg becomes one of his most important tools in the race to save his family, the film’s most satisfying moments come from our hero turning disadvantage into strength in each over-the-top situation. It’s the greatest skyscraper-related underdog story since that raccoon climbed a building in Minnesota.
Playing his army surgeon wife, Neve Campbell is also a pleasingly proactive presence, holding her own in combat and conflagration.
Set in Hong Kong, the film’s cast is rounded out by Byron Mann, Hannah Quinlivan and Chin Han to appeal to that lucrative Asian market — although there’s something a bit tone-deaf about the way the characters from Hong Kong are shown as spellbound bystanders literally applauding the actions of the Hollywood hero.
This is the Rock’s third blockbuster of the year after Rampage and the surprisingly good. You’d think the flicks with the giant gorilla and the sentient video game would be in competition for the most supremely silly outings, but Skyscraper’s high-rise histrionics give even overgrown apes a run for their money in the ridiculousness stakes.
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