We’ve seen a lot of so-called “Die Hard” rip offs over the years. You know the story. An individual with spectacular skills is forced into a situation where they need to take action in order to help save a specific person or a group of people from terrorists all while being trapped within a confined setting. Several times this idea has been adapted to a skyscraper, including “Die Hard” itself, but it’s been a while since we’ve seen a fresh and modern take on that trope. Enter the appropriately titled “Skyscraper”, a new action film written and directed by comedy specialist Rawson Marshall Thurber and starring Dwayne Johnson as the main badass of the story. While fun and suspenseful, the film is also highly derivative and cliché. But, is I more fun that failure? Let’s have a look shall we. His is my review if “Skyscraper”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
“Skyscraper” stars Dwayne Johnson as Will Sawyer, a former FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader turned security specialist who lost his leg during a failed rescue mission years prior to the film’s setting. Sawyer is hired by a business tycoon named Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han) to assess the security and safety of a new skyscraper in Hong Kong called The Pearl which functions as its own society with the lower floors having been opened for recreational purposes but the upper half residential suits still closed. Sawyer and his family including wife Sarah (Neve Campbell), daughter Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and son Henry (Noah Cottrell) are the first residents of the upper floors other than Zhao. When a terrorist group led by Kores Botha (Roland Møller) infiltrates The Pearl his team deactivates the emergency response systems and sets fire to the middle floor, trapping Zhao and Sawyer’s family above the fire line. Desperate to save his family from the chaos Sawyer makes a daring attempt to enter the building and put a stop to the terrorists who are seeking compromising information held by Zhao in his penthouse.
Honestly I thoroughly enjoyed “Skyscraper” from an entertainment perspective. It really has been a while since we’ve seen a true-blue “Die Hard” ripoff that works and this film fits the bill. Johnson and Thurber, who also teamed up for “Central Intelligence” in 2016, seem to work well as a team and although this is Thurber’s first foray into action on the big screen you’d think he was a veteran of the genre. Thurber cut his teeth on comedies filled with suspense and quirky action and all he does here is tone back the humor and amp up the suspense to give us action movie gold. Despite its cliché format and premise “Skyscraper” had me glued to the screen from start to finish earning the honor of being one of the few movies in 2018, the very few I might add, where I didn’t look at my watch at least once to see where we were at in the runtime. It’s engaging and exciting in all the right ways as an action movie should be which helps it rise above its predictability and generic writing all of which I’ll get to soon.
Dwayne Johnson of course leads the charge as Will Sawyer and he owns the screen, giving us one of his most vulnerable and down to earth performances in years. Despite his physique Sawyer’s past failures in the line of duty have left him scarred and unsure of himself. Johnson has surprisingly good chemistry with his on-screen wife Neve Campbell who is truly a rock for, well, The Rock (sorry) in this story helping keep her husband’s insecurities in check. Honestly the two of them are adorable together and Campbell’s Sarah Sawyer is just as capable as her husband. For a simple shameless action movie I was pleasantly surprised to see two actors fit so well together on screen. The rest of the cast might not get the chance to shine and, for the most part, they’re actually borderline expendable but we do get some ethnic actors and actresses who have a chance to share the spotlight. Taiwanese-Australian actress Hannah Quinlivan is a standout as Xia, a capable badass assassin working for the terrorists, and Chin Han does fine as Zhao Long Ji, the billionaire behind The Pearl who has good intentions even if his compromising his moral integrity is part of what leads to his building being under siege in the first place. Being based in Hong Kong this film might have pandered to a foreign audience, but you can’t say “Skyscraper” doesn’t at least try to add some diversity to Hollywood.
Going back to the action of “Skyscraper” I have to say the suspense and thrills are really top notch. If the point here is to ignore physics and entertain then this film accomplished that brilliantly. Even when you know what’s coming, because let’s face it the hero is not going to die when he’s dangling from the tower and we all know it, seeing how Sawyer or his loved ones get around the obstacles or one up the bad guys is a heck of a time. “Skyscraper” also makes the best of its setting. I can’t remember any recent film that has given me vertigo as much as this movie. Every scene featuring Sawyer trying to enter the facility or walk around the building’s outside, especially the epic crane scene, had me cringing in the best way and even whispering to myself “screw that”. This is what sells the movie. Yes we’ve seen this premise before but rarely have we seen such an effective use of the literal heights of its setting. It helps drive home the risks Will Sawyer is taking to save the one’s he loves and makes us wonder if we would ever be ballsy enough to do it ourselves. As ridiculously over the top as “Skyscraper” can be sometimes, it squeezes everything it can out of its premise and creates a truly and delightfully uncomfortable and suspenseful action experience that’s honestly a lot more fun than it probably had any right being especially given how overplayed it’s concept really is.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
In the end it’s hard to overlook that “Skyscraper” is indeed a derivative action thriller that borrows a worn-out formula and adds a new coat of paint. While it proves to be a fun and exciting thrill ride that keeps the adrenaline pumping the whole way through the basic premise is far too familiar. A hero with spectacular stamina and abilities fights off a group of relatively faceless bad guys in an enclosed area, although here we don’t even get the satisfaction of a fun and memorable villain. “Skyscrapers” main antagonist Kores Botha is forgettable and even while the movie overall is fun and engaging I still couldn’t get past the fact that I knew almost everything that was going to happen before it even played out. Predictability and a lack of true imagination are the biggest sins with this movie and while Rawson Marshall Thurber should be commended for bringing the idea into the modern day he doesn’t do quite enough to give it its own unique identity. “Skyscraper” plays out exactly as you’d expect and thus there’s little surprise, shock value or true drama or consequences in the result. The good guys win, the bad guy loses, and the stakes are raised to bring us to a pulse pounding finale. It’s basically paint by numbers but with awesome colors that pop.
I also can’t forgive the bland writing of the film which doesn’t exactly due the actors or the characters justice. Save for the relationship between Will and Sarah Marshall there’s very little memorable dialogue which makes even the best characters feel like shells just going through the motions at times. There’s also a lot of technobabble when it comes to how the building works and, like in many movies lately, the utilization of modern technology acts as a crutch for both the heroes and the villains to expand the possibilities of their actions beyond reasonable means. The audience is forced to utilize extension of belief A LOT in this film and while that is required for pretty much every action movie since the dawn of time “Skyscraper” is one of those modern genre epics that asks the audience to ignore pretty much all common sense and basic science to enjoy the film. It’s fun escapism but ignores basic physics and realism in favor of the shot and the fun. While most moviegoers who see this film will be just fine with that, and I’ll admit I certainly enjoyed it, this approach takes away most of the substance from the story and leaves us with only the thrills of the action and a by the numbers concept.
Probably the one thing that annoyed me more than anything else with “Skyscraper” though is it’s pandering nature. We get it, China is a large international market for movies these days. But this film has no real reason to be set in Hong Kong…no reason at all. It could have VERY easily been set in the United States or pretty much anywhere else in the world, but it felt clear to me that the filmmakers weren’t even trying to hide that they wanted Chinese viewers to see this film. Granted this offers a great opportunity for Asian actors and actresses to be involved in the project, that I can’t complain about because the diversity is great, however it doesn’t feel natural or warranted. It feels as forced as ever. These ethnic actors feel like token additions to the project to draw in a foreign crowd. There’s no sincerity or actually point to the Chinese setting at all other than ticket sales. Characters switch from Chinese to English, which is distracting especially when the same people talk to each other in two languages instead of sticking to one (and let’s face it this is not the only movie to do this by far), it adds nothing to the plot and it kind of defeats the whole idea when your main characters aren’t even Asian, just the man who built the tower and the police looking to solve the situation who are pretty useless. Making movies in China is fine. Setting them in China is fine. Hell making movies to satisfy a foreign market is also perfectly fine. But at least own it and put some true thought and heart into it. Imagine “Skyscraper” with a Chinese lead saving his Chinese family from a Chinese building. Doesn’t that sound awesome? With “Skyscraper” it’s painfully obvious it was produced with the intent of pandering to duel audiences in America and China and the film is not better off for it at all.
“Skyscraper” is certainly a fun movies to say the least. It’s engaging and boasts a pair of committed and charming leads who work well together on the big screen. It’s action packed and takes full advantage of the setting to give viewers the sensation of vertigo and even in the most predictable of moments leave you wondering how it will all play out. But with that said it’s hard to forgive the lack of originality. I feel like there was a great idea here and in some ways it is realized, but there’s a lot left on the table. In the end “Skyscraper” is a heck of a good time but it’s highly derivative and lacks a great villain or any common sense in its story even if it carries a lot of heart. It’s also extremely annoying that the filmmakers decided to pander to foreign audiences when the setting of Hong Kong feels more like a token Asian location for the action rather than a truly appropriate backdrop for it all to plays out. All in all I can still say it’s among the better films to borrow the idea made popular by the legendary “Die Hard”. You get what you pay for essentially and if that’s all you want then you’ll be perfectly happy. I left with a smile on may face feeling satisfied but looking back on it I can’t help but think we could have gotten a whole lot more. We get what we want from “Skyscraper” which is great but we don’t really get everything we deserved.