Let’s make one thing clear right off the bat: Skyscraper is not Die Hard. It’s not The Towering Inferno, either.
For all its aspirations to ape the action classics of yesteryear, what it actually is is the latest in a string of adequate if uninspired action disaster movies fronted by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson: like 2015’s San Andreas and this year’s Rampage before it, it’s competently made but relies rather too heavily on its leading man’s considerable charisma to keep things afloat.
The film, which sees Johnson re-team with Central Intelligence writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber, casts the People’s Champion as former FBI agent Will Sawyer: now a security consultant after a mission-gone-wrong leaves him an amputee, Sawyer’s called upon to certify The Pearl, the tallest building in the world, only to get caught up in a terrorist plot.
Cue a series of increasingly outrageous sky-high set-pieces designed to make your toes feel funny, courtesy of an unusually vulnerable performance from Johnson, doing a decent job of making us believe that this man mountain is genuinely in danger, even if his aforementioned injury is only ever as important as the film needs it to be at any given moment.
The argument that having Johnson play an amputee hero is a positive step forward for representation is a weak one. Often, the artificial leg is forgotten entirely – during any number of brutal bouts and strenuous action sequences, but especially that jump to The Pearl from a nearby crane – while at other points, it’s used in rather queasy fashion as something akin to a superpower, with Sawyer using his false leg as a multi-purpose, terrorist-thwarting tool.
Sawyer’s magic leg is far from the only plot hole or logical fallacy in Skyscraper – there are too many to list. The movie’s plagued by nonsense science, while character motivations are murky at best, nonsensical at worst.
Hans Gruber was pursuing nothing more complicated than cold hard cash, but the bad guys’ motivation here is needlessly convoluted for such a fundamentally brainless action flick. Maybe it’s unfair to keep comparing Skyscraper to the peerless Die Hard, but with a publicity campaign built around positioning the new film as the older’s natural successor, Johnson and Thurber are sort of asking for it.
Die Hard wasn’t just about Bruce Willis, though, it was about Alan Rickman too, and, even putting ill-defined motives aside, the villains in Skyscraper are painfully insipid. Roland Møller’s lead terrorist is dull and uninteresting, while henchman Noah Taylor’s stilted ‘paycheque’ performance is easily worst thing about the movie.
Of the rest of the supporting cast, only Neve Campbell stands out, doing her best with what is, in the early going, a flatly-written ‘wife / mother’ role, though Thurber’s script does at least allow her to be a little more proactive in the film’s second half.
Preposterous and with a cast that, bar Johnson and Campbell, lacks personality, what saves Skyscraper is, predictably, the spectacle. The film absolutely delivers on its ‘acrophobic’s nightmare’ premise, with some truly stomach-churning peril. It’s these expertly orchestrated sequences that prevent the whole thing from being, if you’ll pardon the pun, a towering disappointment.
Skyscraper is best enjoyed on this purely visual, visceral level. It’s the kind of film where one man can overcome impossible odds with just a little bit of spirit and a whole lot of duct tape, and it doesn’t stand up to even the most superficial analysis.
But if you’re willing to switch off your brain and just go along for the ride, it’s pleasing enough popcorn fare. Ludicrous, absolutely, and too often flat where it should be sharp, but its nail-biting showpieces and a typically magnetic lead performance from Johnson just about carry it through.
That said, if Johnson and Thurber are looking to truly imitate Die Hard and launch a franchise (Skyscraper 2: Scrape Harder?), they’d be wise to aim higher next time round.
Skyscraper will be released in UK cinemas on Thursday (July 12).
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber; Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Møller, Noah Taylor, Byron Mann, Pablo Schreiber, Hannah Quinlivan; Running time: 102 minutes; Certificate: 12A
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