Movie Reviews: Skyscraper (2018)

The release and massive success of Die Hard in 1988 ushered in a wave of imitators both large and smaller budget especially in the 90s.   It got so egregious that “Die Hard on/in a [setting]” became a well-known joke as it seemed like producers tried to get more ridiculous with that setting.  Look I get it, I love Die Hard too.  It’s one of my favorite movies, one I revisit yearly (if not more), and just about flawless, but this is just getting shameless as far as rip offs go.  Besides just being “Die Hard in an even bigger building”, Skyscraper seems to pull countless set pieces and even one of its final moments and lines directly from that movie with no greater impulse than to make it bigger and set it on fire.  The Towering Inferno is another obvious source for “inspiration” here, but while this building towers higher and the inferno blazes bigger, it hasn’t gotten any more impressive in the past 44 years.

With those cards flung onto the table, it’s probably best to get to the story. Dwayne Johnson (I still have a hard time not just calling him The Rock even as someone who didn’t watch wrestling growing up) plays a security specialist complete with tragic backstory which caused him to lose much of his right leg.  It efficiently combines both the John McClane and Al Powell characters as he takes the family of the former and the mistake that causes him to not want to use a gun of the latter.  His wife is played by Neve Campbell (ScreamThe Craft) and along with two children in tow, they move into the world’s tallest building (located in Hong Kong) where he must assess its safety before it completely opens (the building being partially open as well in Die Hard).  There’s some cool arcology type elements to the building, but the film doesn’t really do enough with all the supposed breakthroughs inside the place.

The Rock is an engaging lead, that’s not surprising as he’s a generational action star, and he does his thing again here.  The disability is awesome to see in action lead and the film does integrate it into the plot and his fighting, but it also doesn’t seem to hold him back at all and to the point that it all is just so silly.  Not silly in a good way, because I am all on board for just a movie that goes over the top and has a goofy good time, silly in that it treats the prosthetic leg as somehow still allowing him to regularly do superheroic feats while the movie itself tries to keep a more level tone.  It’s the movie’s biggest stumbling block, because while the action is interesting if choppily filmed and edited, it lacks the things that made Die Hard special; it’s humor, a protagonist whose injuries affected him, and vague gestures as realism.  There are some attempts at humor, they just don’t hit.

The rest of the cast is pretty lackluster aside from Chin Han (The Dark Knight, Contagion) who actually seems to relish the chance to play The Wizard here (he’s not Oz, Pablo Schreiber, Oz was the place… you know what, it tracks with your character).  Everyone else including Roland Møller (Land of Mine) as the film’s lame answer to Hans Gruber just play uninteresting and unmemorable stock types.  There’s even a cop on the ground just to fulfill the rest of Al’s role that wasn’t absorbed by The Rock, but the writer seemed to include him only because Die Hard did, not because they had anything interesting to do with him besides glorified reaction shots.

Despite the tired premise and all the other flaws, I can’t say the film was a complete waste of time though.   Writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber (DodgeBallCentral Intelligence) may not have an original idea here, but it’s still reasonably compelling when he throws some impossible task at The Rock’s character.  Johnson is always watchable and there’s enough juice left in the Die Hard/Towering Inferno model to keep this from being a mind-numbing San Andreas type affair.  It’s fine if you wind up seeing it (preferably on TNT at some point) and it will keep your attention throughout, there’s just no reason to purposefully seek it out.