Skyscraper is an ’80s B-movie homage on steroids which works just enough


Skyscraper, the latest from action star Dwayne Johnson hearkens back to films like Die Hard and The Towering Inferno, pleasing genre audiences.

It’s been three months since audiences saw Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson grace the silver screen. In April, he and his gorilla friend, George, were simultaneously saving and destroying cities in the video game adaptation of Rampage. Since then he’s ditched the gorilla to work alone, saving his family from a burning tower in Skyscraper.

Advertised as a modern interpretation of Die Hard meets The Towering Inferno, Skyscraper delivers on exactly what you should expect to see: 102 minutes of The Rock defying gravity and injury to achieve his goals. It’s pure popcorn movie tailor-made for the summer movie season and should get action junkies through the break of waiting two weeks for the next Mission: Impossible.

Skyscraper follows former FBI Rescue team leader Will Sawyer (Johnson). Sawyer left the FBI after a hostage situation went bad, losing a leg in the process. Now a security consultant, Will and his family travel to Hong Kong so Sawyer can assess the safety protocols for The Pearl, the world’s tallest skyscraper described as “Fort Knox a mile in the sky.”

Things go awry when a group of mercenaries set fire to the building, disabling the safety controls and trapping Will’s family inside. Will, on the outside, must figure out a way to gain entry into the building, save his family, and discover what’s at the root of all this.

Johnson has become the master of the high-concept drama, taking the basic tenets of ’80s actioners (themselves already built on convoluted coincidences) and upping the ante. Will is a man with a haunted past, failing to save a family during a tense standoff. He lost his leg and hasn’t touched a gun in 10 years because of the ordeal, but in the balance, he met his wife, Sarah (Neve Campbell), a naval nurse, and had a family.

The Sawyers are cute, aided by actors Noah Cottrell and McKenna Roberts who play Johnson’s twins. They’ve come with their dad in the hopes of having some fun, and Johnson can play the role of the kind-hearted father and husband in his sleep. His chemistry with Campbell in their introductory scene isn’t heavily steeped in sexual chemistry, a la true ’80s action films starring Schwarzenegger or Stallone. They’re responsible adults who know when the other’s “gears are turning” or when one of them needs some cell phone help.

Key plot developments are also revealed in these few minutes that you just know will pay off in some form by the end, from Sarah having trouble getting her iPhone to work to the awareness that Henry is asthmatic.

Ragging on the script, attributed to director Rawson Marshall Thurber, is a bit of a low blow considering the movie doesn’t wish to take itself too seriously. Hence, pointing out how coincidentally things develop, from the reason why Sawyer’s family is in the house to why Will is so important in the first place, is low-hanging fruit. What keeps Skyscraper buoyant is the action and Johnson’s commitment to making the audience empathize with him.

Unlike Rampage, Johnson seems more comfortable selling himself as a solo action star. The camera is focused solely on him for the majority of the runtime, and extended scenes see Johnson scaling buildings, innovating MacGuyver-esque ways of accessing outside panels, and generally just showing that he’s invincible.

Ironically, said invincibility is negated by Will’s prosthetic leg, which takes an active role in the feature. We see Will find ways to adapt his goals, and even his fighting style, to having one good leg. At a certain point, it is his very disability which saves his life.

The script attempts to give Will self-awareness of the insanity of events; he comments on his next move as if he’s shaking his fist at the script. By the time he’s playing leapfrog with a turbine on the side of the building, you just believe things like gravity don’t exist in this world. Though, it is a bit disheartening that only Johnson is able to leap into a tall building in a single bound, yet Sarah needs a plank to walk across a bridge. I say turn this entire family into the Incredibles!

To her credit, Neve Campbell distinguishes herself beyond the supportive wife stereotype. The movie makes a point of giving her a personality and character; not only is she a naval nurse, she’s also proficient in various languages, which leads to a bit of humor towards the end. Though playing opposite her children, Campbell creates an empathetic mother character who you’ll actually remember.

Noah Cottrell and McKenna Roberts are cute as the twins, but it’s doubtful you’re watching this for child actors. Pablo Schreiber and Noah Taylor play side characters involved in what’s happening; the former is there to deliver exposition before leaving the film entirely. Taylor’s character is so over-the-top that if he had a mustache, it’d be twirled into a corkscrew. It’d have been nice for a bit of ambiguity from him.

The Pearl itself is beautifully constructed building with some exquisite set designs that mimic similar buildings in China and Dubai. Constructed by billionaire Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han), there’s an air of elitism — the fact that the Pearl will only cater to the super rich — reminiscent of movies like High-Rise and Land of the Dead.

The film has to add on another layer of suspense (because a burning building is too easily conquered by The Rock) with a new round of “East German all-stars.” (Hey, this movie is new Die Hard, after all.) The baddies are one-note with some of the worst accents, but they give something for Johnson to punch and squeeze. Interestingly, the movie goes the Lone Ranger route of having Will avoid guns, and it’s pretty refreshing.

Skyscraper is a serviceable return to the ’80s action films of many a young folk’s youth. It’s a quick 102-minutes that doesn’t waste time with characterization, though there is just enough to make you wish the Sawyers well.

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This is a great role for Johnson, showing he’s more than capable of showing his acrobatic nature. It’ll make you believe this might have utilized physical sets. It’s a good time waster and when it’s 115 degrees out, sometimes that’s all you need.