Is “Skyscraper” worthy of a weekend date night? Yes! The film ridiculously over-the-top in its action-movie heroics and insane stunts. However, Dwayne Johnson’s latest is rooted in his love of his wife and young kids. He’s determined to save them from both bad guys and a fiery skyscraper at any cost. That gives this movie a heart that adds some valuable emotion to silly summer fun.
Does anyone go to a movie starring Dwayne Johnson for anything remotely resembling realism? Perhaps more than any other movie star on the planet (perhaps even in movie history!) he’s perfected a mix of unbelievable strength, goofy humor and an inherent heroic, all-American decency. This is a great combination whether he’s in the hard-charging “Fast & Furious” series or a kid-friendly adventure romp like “Jumanji” reboot.
Johnson recently experienced the one major debacle of his career in the past five years. He inexplicably turned the insipid 1990s TV series “Baywatch” into a raunchy R-rated action comedy. But he quickly course-corrected himself with the $400 million hit “Jumanji”. He also starred in the absurdly inventive monster movie “Rampage”. Now Johnson tops himself in terms of ludicrous fun with this weekend’s blockbuster “Skyscraper”.
A family man pushed to the brink
“Skyscraper” is clearly modeled after the original “Die Hard”. It’s also mixed with “The Towering Inferno”. The film reunites Johnson with Rawson Marshall Thurber, the writer-director of his terrific 2016 action-comedy “Central Intelligence”. Johnson plays Will Sawyer, a security expert who travels to Hong Kong to assess the safety level of the world’s largest skyscraper as it’s about to open.
Will received the job from a friend who used to be on a team of federal agents under his command. Their teamwork abruptly ended long before, though. Years ago, a fugitive set off a bomb that blew off one of Will’s legs and scarred his friend. It turns out that his former colleague is actually setting Will up as revenge for ruining his life.
The skyscraper’s developer is billionaire Zhoa Long Ji (Chin Han). Zhoa stirred the ire of a mercenary named Kores Botha (Roland Møller), who extorted millions from him. Zhoa placed tracking software on his purloined millions. But this software compromised the operations of the three international crime cartels that Kores worked for. Now Kores is out for revenge by both setting the seemingly indestructible skyscraper aflame and seizing Zhoa’s main tracking device.
Kores sees Will’s presence as the perfect distraction. He frames Will to look like he caused the destructive fire to happen. In addition, Will’s wife (Neve Campbell) and two young children are staying above the flame-engulfed 96th floor. Will not only has to save the building from destruction and his reputation from ruin, but also rescue his family at the same time.
Don’t forget, he’s doing it all while wearing a prosthetic leg that keeps coming off at all the wrong times.
The film is convoluted, but it’s too much fun to care
Sound convoluted? It is. That’s just half the twists involved in Thurber’s utterly ridiculous screenplay. But again, does it matter to the kind of mass audience looking to a film like this for carefree summer fun?
“Skyscraper” takes elements from zillions of action blockbusters and disaster movies and mixes them together. The result is a combination that feels familiar in all the right ways yet preposterously original on its own terms overall. There are not many movies that could rely upon their hero scaling a 100-story-tall crane using only his bare hands, not to mention finding 15 unique ways to use a prosthetic leg in fight scenes.
Thurber and Johnson impressively balance the silliness even in scenes that involve Will’s injuries. One scene include a forearm slashed by a big knife and a six-inch shard of glass that Will has to pull out of one of his massive pecs. This renders Will surprisingly human and vulnerable.
It’s clear that they’re emulating Bruce Willis’ powerful scene in the original “Die Hard”. In the scene, Bruce pulls countless pieces of broken glass from his bloody bare feet. Johnson has developed into a strong enough actor to make his big emoting scene affecting.
It’s not “Die Hard” but it’s better than most summer movies
“Skyscraper” has a fun mix of insanely over-the-top action and vulnerable moments. However, the film doesn’t quite reach the status of timeless action classic because of its sheer implausibility. “Die Hard” had a fundamental grittiness at its core. There was a real sense of life-and-death stakes amplified by the fact that Willis was still largely unknown as a movie star. Because of this, he made the audience truly feel his pain.
On the other hand, Johnson is both literally and figuratively the world’s biggest movie star. He may wince well and show a depth of conviction in his concern for family, but there’s never a moment’s doubt that he will survive.
But judging from the wild applause and cheers of the audience at Monday night’s advance screening in Hollywood, that may not matter. In these uncertain times, people want a hero they can be certain will come through for them, and on that front “Skyscraper” handily delivers.
Action and thrills: 10
Overall: 8.2 out of 10