Writer and Director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s action thriller “Skyscraper” is “Die Hard” lite, but without iconic villain Hans Gruber. Chiseled resilience squared Dwayne Johnson is heroic amputee Will Sawyer, who desperately tries to save his beloved wife Sarah, daughter Georgia, and son Henry, played by Neve Campbell, McKenna Roberts, and Noah Cottrel, from flaming skyscraper The Pearl. Billionaire Zhao, played by covert cool Chin Han, built the The Pearl in Hong Kong, the world’s tallest building at 220 stories, three times taller than the Empire State Building. This also resembles “The Towering Inferno” from the 1970’s. Dwayne is the only reason to watch this often derivative feature.
I saw in an interview that The Rock, Dwayne Johnson researched and worked with War Veteran amputees to translate the sense of authenticity in Will. He does for the most part. Will is the War Hero and former FBI operative forced to the sidelines, because of tragedy 10 years ago. He now wears a metal prosthetic leg below his left knee. He married the surgeon, who saved him, Sarah. They have two great kids.
Will has become a private security expert. His former FBI Teammate and friend Ben, charming clandestine Pablo Schreiber, arranged the meeting with Zhao at The Pearl as its next Security Executive. Will and his family are guests in The Pearl. The Pearl is state-of-the art technology and luxury with its remotely located safety system. What could go wrong? A lot. Otherwise, there’s no movie.
Crazed terrorist Botha, played by angry calculated Roland Moller, and his men explode the 96th of the building creating the raging inferno. Meanwhile, deadly Xia, played by cool kick-ass Hannah Quinlivan, uses martial arts skills and automatic weapons to disable the fire safety protocols. The terrorism occurs more than nihilistic anarchy. Regardless, Will must save his family from their imminent demise.
Much of Rawson’s narrative is telegraphed. Yet, I was completely invested in Dwayne’s Will. Before everything goes to hell, Will touchingly admits, “I kind of laid down my sword…” Rawson and Dwayne worked previously on the underrated hit “Central Intelligence”, the action buddy picture with Kevin Hart. Without Kevin, “Skyscraper” is way more dour, and a lot less fun.
What Rawson wisely leverages is Dwayne’s earnestness and heart. The action is often hyperbole, particularly with Will’s leaping from the construction crane to the flaming tower. It’s particularly satisfying watching the Rock lay the “smack down” on the big bad guys. And as physically imposing as Will is, Dwayne enrolls with that sense of fear and anger in his eyes.
On the other upside, the women in “Skyscraper” are total badass. It’s great seeing Neve Campbell back in the movies. Her Sarah is strong, smart and protects her children to the death. She convincingly kicks the crap out of traitorous Mr. Pierce, played by snakelike Noah Taylor, who threatens her flesh and blood. Hannah as the mysterious sleek assassin Xia speaks quietly before dispatching a lethal sidekick. You just don’t mess with her.
What “Skyscraper” misses is the maverick villain. Botha is not that at all. Where I think Dwayne has more physical presence than Bruce Willis in “Die Hard”. “Skyscraper” fails not having the iconic charismatic villain like Hans Gruber, played by the late great Alan Rickman. Alan mesmerized as Han, conveying human complexity. Roland and Rawson’s Botha is so one-dimensional evil. Moreover, Botha doesn’t pose the credible threat to Will, metal leg and all.
“Skyscraper” is pretty good. Entertaining. Dwayne Johnson is greater than the material and this movie. He’s enough to enjoy watching the movie. His Will fights for family and love as his noble cause. Too bad the villain or the ultimate intention aren’t nearly so compelling. I think the Rock deserved better. In a sense so do we.
–Originally Published on IMDb
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