Review: Skyscraper

Dwayne Johnson and Rawson Marshall Thurber (Central Intelligence) reunite as star and writer/director for their attempt at Die Hard with a Limp. Much has already been said about how this misfires (which it does) but it’s basic problem is pretty simple: Skyscraper is trying to be two films at once and neither of them work very well. 

Mercifully, Skyscraper is a thrift 104 minutes and what is surprising about this production is that’s it’s the first foray into direct event-style action from Thurber whose back catalogue is in comedies like Easy A, Dodgeball, We’re The Millers and the upcoming We’re The Millers 2. It’s a huge show of faith from Universal Pictures and Legendary to jump behind this vehicle to the tune of $125m.

Thurber, working from his own script, seems out of his league to pull off such a big scale venture here as his script tacks on hackneyed tropes and 2D characters in between some arresting and not so arresting action sequences. And this is where he comes undone. He cannot seem to navigate the two concurrent storylines with enough balance or interest to make them stick.

It’s present day Hong Kong and, thanks to a flashy prologue, we’re introduced to The Pearl – the largest mixed us skyscraper on the planet from billionaire tycoon developer Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han). U.S. building security specialist Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson), a former U.S. special forces operative who now sports a fake lower left leg, is brought in to sign off The Pearl’s safety measures before the residential floors can be opened to the public.

In tow is Will’s wife Sarah (Neve Campbell), and twin nine year olds Georgia (McKenna Roberts) & Henry (Noah Cottrell), who are unofficially staying in the brand new marvel of glass and steel.

No sooner can you say ‘Neve Campbell has had 7 serial killers try and off her and she’s always survived’ than a bunch of big bads infiltrate the building and set the 96th floor on fire.

And this is where the film splits in two.. and, essentially falls apart. On one hand Skyscraper is trying to do Die Hard – A group of organised criminals are breaking into to steal the macguffin. On the other hand it’s trying to do the Towering Inferno – a family in peril as they are trapped in a burning structure with no way out.

The problem is, each one of these threads is a movie on its own. Shoehorn them into one movie and you sacrifice character, plot, emotional connectivity, and balance. And that’s what befalls Skyscraper. It cannot balance either of them with much interest to make you care.

A virtually non-existent bad guy nor a consistent through line as to why the building was attacked (bar a two line exposition in the final act that feels more like duct taping holes) restricts any sense of menace or threat in the Die Hard story line. You just don’t care about any of it.

Even lead star Johnson feels hemmed in here, delivering a very mechanical version of the Dwayne Johnson you saw in Rampage, San Andreas, and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

For this author, the best scenes belong to Neve Campbell and her kids, isolated from Will, as they try to survive the walls of flames, smoke, and falling debris. Neve’s done the lady in peril who refuses to die before, and she gives her scenes a gravitas that far outshines the cliche riddled dialogue. When Skyscraper goes The Towering Inferno there’s moments to enjoy.

Visually, there are some arresting moments to enjoy and some nice cinematography to give the whole thing depth of scale – for that Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood, Nightcrawler) deserves full credit.

Overall, Skyscraper is passable but wholly disappointing. The unexpected presence of Neve Campbell lifts the film but it can’t get beyond trying to be two films when it should’ve just stuck one and nailed it. And if you’re gonna lean on Die Hard, you better bring your A-Game because we all know how Hans Gruber wound up, don’t we?