While the Rock maintains his larger-than-life presence, this taller Die Hard knockoff buckles under the weight of its sizeable lack of humor.
Ever since my childhood days of watching professional wrestling, I’ve wanted Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to succeed. Whether it was in the ring (where he would ask his fellow wrestlers if they can smell what he was cooking), or even in a Disney film, where he is an unconventional tooth fairy. I’ve always wanted The Rock to reach new, bold heights, but Skyscraper, an action film about the world’s tallest building, barely lifted him off of the ground. Think of his career as, well, a rock, skipping across the Hollywood pond. Every dip is followed by a jump, but slowly begins losing momentum the longer it goes on. Alas, this analogy applies both to Johnson and the film as a whole.
In the past, Johnson’s most successful roles involved characters drenched in comedy or camp. For every Maui, there are at least two Roadblocks. As all our former action heroes approach septuagenarian-hood (if they’re not there already), Johnson is all but primed to replace all of them. In this contemporary reimagining of Die Hard, Johnson plays Will Sawyer, a tech consultant with a disability – during a hostage negotiation, Sawyer was caught in an explosion that claimed one of his legs and the lives of most of his team. The PTSD from this event plays a part in his future decisions, and predictably results in several scenes that parallel his initial trauma.
The story takes every predictable twist and turn you would expect. Ableist casting choice notwithstanding, Johnson also delivers his signature action hero performance. Rawson Marshall Thurber puts Johnson’s character in the all-too-familiar role of having to save his family from foreign forces. It’s fairly straightforward, but that leads to most of Skyscraper’s problems. It takes itself so seriously that its far-fetched elements circle around into unintended comedy. Thurber has experience with action films and sequences, but only when combined with comedy – if only it had embraced that, Skyscraper wouldn’t seem so damned dour.
Just like the fully-CGI building in the film, Skyscraper is at least filled to the brim with cinematic style. Thurber’s pacing between action sequences is the slow death knell of the whole affair, but the action sequences themselves bring us back to momentary life. The camera-work is clean and concise, keeping the shots tight and engrossing. Action scenes play with the grace of orchestral arrangements. The sound design makes the audience feel every punch and gunshot, acting as the caffeine this film needs to keep us awake. Tech combines with the architectural flair of the building itself to bring out some much-needed aesthetic verve – at the film’s climactic finale, a fight sequence turns the battlefield into a house of mirrors mindfuck.
This film boasts a highly capable supporting cast, including Pablo Schreiber, Noah Taylor, Roland Møller, Byron Mann and Chin Han. While Dwayne Johnson may be the film’s most overused character, the dishonor of the most underused character falls on Neve Campbell. Campbell is given a few sequences in which to shine, but just makes us imagine how much better the film would have been with her as the lead.
In a film that seems almost too big to fail, Skyscraper buckles under the weight of its own gravity. The overall lack of intentional comedy put both the filmmaker and star at a disadvantage right out of the gate. That structural instability right at the film’s inception meant it was destined to become a pile of rubble even before it started. After all, you can’t spell Skyscraper without ‘crap’.
Skyscraper is in theaters of all sizes now.