Skyscraper is the latest Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson action movie (the second big blockbuster film he is in this year). It is also an “original film”. Not a sequel, not a reboot, not based off a book, Skyscraper is a new original movie. I say this not as a mocking way to Skyscraper but to the film fans of the internet who valiantly believe that originality is inherently somehow tied to new intellectual properties.
Skyscraper is Die Hard meets The Towering Inferno (with the slight tinge of Sci-Fi). Skyscraper is a film largely derivative of other films (but Die Hard has, of course, already spawned countless imitators so this isn’t new). In the movie, Will Sawyer (played by The Rock) runs a security company. After losing a leg as a SWAT team member he settles down with his newfound wife and kids and makes a new life for himself. He inspects a building to make sure the safety protocols are up to where they should be. This new building isn’t just any new building but the tallest skyscraper in the world lined up the most advanced technologies available. During his stay there, they come under attack from a group with a vendetta against the building’s founder. Sawyer gets caught up in the attack and now has to save his family from the terrorists who also set the building on fire.
Skyscraper is very much a collection of moments from better movies. That being said, Skyscraper is quite honestly better than I was expecting. I went in with low expectations and came having had a better time with the movie than I thought I would. That also being said when your expectations are low it isn’t hard to surpass them. Skyscraper is made well from a technical standpoint and has some creative designs within the building, but ultimately it never really exceeds at the clichés that it follows.
Watching Skyscraper, I am reminded of other action movies that came out post-Die Hard. Movies like Under Siege, Speed, Air Force One and recent movies like Lockout and even Paul Blart: Mall Cop. These movies all tried to be Die Hard while adding their own unique locations to the mix (along with their own action star). But, they never were Die Hard. There were always shades of what made Die Hard great but they all lacked the true thrills, tension, gritty action and memorable villains of the Die Hard movies (with the exception of Air Force One which did a memorable villain). Skyscraper is that. It is a movie clearly inspired by Die Hard without succeeding at any of the qualities that really made Die Hard, Die Hard.
Skyscraper doesn’t have to be Die Hard to be successful. On its own Skyscraper is competently made, Dwayne Johnson is a great lead and it was so nice to see Neve Campbell (who truly doesn’t get enough work). There are times where the action gets interesting but writer/director Rawson Thurber’s (director of Dodgeball; a movie I really enjoy) almost bloodless direction lacks grit. This movie doesn’t have to be a bloodbath but a more a brutal approach to the action (juxtaposing against the beautiful and clean skyscraper) would have made the fight scenes more intense. Also, Thurber doesn’t spend enough time establishing character to really get invested in them.
I also feel that this doesn’t advantage of its setting. I said this has a tinge of Sci-Fi and I say that because of the highly advanced but entirely plausible technology that is in the building. Why not embrace that more? I really hate comparing this movie constantly to Die Hard but it doesn’t do a whole lot to set itself apart from it either. If this movie embraced the character of the building more it might have felt more distinct. The environment should have played more of a factor but most of what happens in this movie could have still happened if it set in a normal skyscraper we have today. The design and production work of the skyscraper was very interesting. The sleek design along with a lot of the environments of the building made for a more unique setting than I was expecting. I wish the movie had more fun with it.
I realize I am coming off much harsher than I intend to be. Skyscraper isn’t a bad movie. Skyscraper is a throwback to those 90s action films with the budget and visual effects of a modern blockbuster. Some of the action scenes are well staged (although not remarkable), Johnson is really good as the lead and the child actors (McKenna Roberts and Noah Cottrell) are quite good as well. I like the family dynamic of the Sawyers but halfway through the movie, I did find myself wishing we spent more time together with them at the beginning of the movie. I felt I barely knew the children as characters.
Skyscraper may not be a bad movie but it does feel like a disposable one. It is better than I expected and I did enjoy it more than Dwayne Johnson’s other blockbuster this year, Rampage (hell, I enjoyed Skyscraper more than the most recent Die Hard movie). Skyscraper never really becomes engrossing as an action thriller despite a few well-done set pieces. Johnson is good in movies like this and I loved seeing Neve Campbell as his counterpart. It never makes full usage of the setting it resides in and doesn’t do much to set it apart from the movies that inspired it (like Die Hard) nor does it exceeds at the tropes that it embraces. The clean fight scenes rob the movie of an intensity and the villain is forgettable. Skyscraper isn’t bad but you probably won’t remember it very well in the years to come.