It’s hard to imagine anyone walking into Skyscraper expecting originality. Every element of the film’s marketing – its trailer, this poster, this tweet – makes it clear that this is first and foremost a Die Hard homage (with a hefty dash of The Towering Inferno). Rather than being a weakness, that’s a strength. Skyscraper is an utterly derivative yet tremendously entertaining action flick, offering nothing new but a whole lot of fun.
Honestly, Skyscraper would make a better Die Hard sequel than the ones we got. Yes, even Die Hard with a Vengeance. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s character, Will Sawyer, is a veteran with a troubled past who’s since founded his own security company, finding himself pitching to property tycoon Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han). It’s not hard to imagine John McClane shifting into a similar line of work after Nakatomi Plaza; nor is it difficult to imagine how pear-shaped that would turn when faced with the largest skyscraper in the world, reputedly double the size of Burj Khalifa.
The fantastical, implausibly tale skyscraper is the perfect setting for Skyscraper’s slightly elevated reality. The film’s first act lazily wanders through the skyscraper’s high tech innovations – wind-powered turbines, sophisticated panic rooms, artificial green spaces, a spherical hall of mirrors – that will, inevitably, be used to stage outsized action when things get heated (or engulfed by flames, whichever). This isn’t just about foreshadowing, but about establishing that we’re existing just above the rules of our own universe.
Which is perfect for a film that involves Johnson frequently and fragrantly leaping unbelievable distances, all part of a convoluted scheme to rescue his family (so convoluted that Will himself at one point mutters, “This is stupid.”). The narrative is just ridiculous enough to maintain momentum while facilitating genuinely gripping action. Significantly, Will’s family – wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and a pair of preteen kids – aren’t reduced to helpless victims; Sarah, also a veteran, gets to do her share of ass-kicking that feels earned rather than tokenistic.
What I most appreciated about Skyscraper was its steadfast resistance to descend into thin comedy. Given the heightened premise, director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s filmography (Dodgeball, We’re the Millers, Central Intelligence with Johnson) and Johnson’s run of middling comedies lately, this was a genuine gift. It’s not that there aren’t flashes of humour, but Skyscraper takes its occasionally absurd premise seriously. Maybe that’s not going to be for everyone, but it kept me consistently engaged as well as entertained.
It’s easy to dismiss Skyscraper as a cash grab; a craven attempt to leverage Johnson’s charisma in a Die Hard clone. I mean, it is that! Right down to the Hong Kong setting that provides prominent roles for plenty of Chinese stars to get that international dollar. But dammit, if all of the Rock’s projects were this well-crafted and, well, fun, I wouldn’t offer on iota of complaints about originality. In future, let’s ditch the ill-advised comedy and make more uncomplicated action films like this. Skyscraper with a Vengeance, anyone?