Hey, if Bruce Willis isn’t going to do anything worthwhile with the Die Hard franchise, why not hand it over to Dwayne Johnson? Not that the generically-titled Skyscraper is exactly a remake of Die Hard but it might as well be, only with a few more bells, whistles, muscles, and prosthetic legs. Everything else remains in place; brawny Dad-turned-action hero, vaguely European villains to contend with, and a towering building to scale. Skyscraper isn’t going to win anybody over with ingenuity, but for pure, dumb fun it should suffice.
A reunion of Johnson with his Central Intelligence director Rawson Marshall Thurber, Skyscraper is one of those movies clearly designed for the international audience. Sure, Johnson is the lead here and he does everything we want him to do: hang off of buildings, sweat bullets, beat up bad guys, wear tight shirts, and so forth. But the largely international cast and Hong Kong setting mark this as a movie that knows its biggest payday will come from outside the United States.
The Rock suits up as Will Sawyer, a former FBI agent hired as a security expert in the largest skyscraper in the world, a futuristic city in the sky designed by billionaire Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han). Will’s had it tough, having lost a leg in a hostage situation years earlier, but it was through that he met his wife (Neve Campbell), a military surgeon and mother of his two kids. While the family is assumed to be away, Will and his shady pal (Pablo Schreiber) meet with Zhao and his security personnel. It isn’t long after the building is overrun by terrorists who set the place on fire in search of something valuable in Zhao’s possession. The problem? Will’s family is still inside, and he has to do whatever necessary to get in and save them.
From the moment we see Will snap on that prosthetic, we know he’ll be using it for more than walking. Having “laid down his sword” following the tragic incident that cost his leg, Will literally jumps right back into action to save his family. The wildest sequence is before he ever gets back into the building, as he uses a massive crane to carry himself above the fireline on the 96th floor. From there the bulk of the film finds Johnson doing his best Tom Cruise impersonation, scaling along walls miles above the city streets, where thousands of anxious on-lookers gasp at his every move. If you’re someone who suffers from vertigo or a fear of heights this is probably not the movie for you as some of the early sequences are pretty stunning. If there’s a flimsy or burning ledge anywhere in the building you can bet Johnson will be hanging from it at some point.
Once inside the towering inferno, the action is pretty formulaic and the only thing elevating them is Johnson, who manages to be entertaining in a role that is somewhat toned-down for him. For the most part this is a role he has to play straight, and there isn’t another actor to be the comic relief. The premise is so over-the-top and so are some of the ridiculous stunts Johnson pulls off that you wish there was more humor as a complement, like we see from him in the Fast & Furious flicks. He’s not exactly playing John McClane here; he’s more like the amiable Johnson we’ve seen in most of his family-friendly roles, except he occasionally punches people in the face. He isn’t given enough personality, other than his utter devotion to duct tape’s ability to fix anything.
I don’t know if a “hall of mirrors” shootout was Thurber paying homage to Orson Welles’ 1947 noir The Lady from Shanghai but it adds a bit of visual spice to a lackluster finale. Let’s give him credit and say he did it on purpose.
Nobody is going to put Skyscraper on the same level as Die Hard, the ground it’s built on is too generic for that. But it’s also hard to go wrong with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson saving people from a couple thousand feet in the air. He remains one of the most watchable and bankable stars in the world, and there’s no reason to think he’ll hit rock bottom any time soon.