Believe it or not, it’s been thirty years since Die Hard (McTiernan, 1988) pitted one lone man against a skyscraper full of charismatic terrorists. Since then, Die Hard has gone on to inspire not only a slew of sequels but also knock-offs and copycats; we’ve seen Die Hard in a hockey arena, Die Hard on a boat, Die Hard on a train, Die Hard in the White House, Die Hard on a plane and, to be honest, some of these have been pretty good in and of themselves.
Now, director Rawson Marshall Thurber brings it all full circle by giving us Die Hard in a skyscraper…that’s on fire! Which, yeah, is very Towering Inferno (Guillermin, 1974) but with one crucial difference: this burning symbol of capitalist expansion has the Rock in it!
Skyscraper tells the story of former FBI agent turned security assessor Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson), who lost a foot in a hostage situation that turned sour, who has been roped into signing off on the largest, tallest, most advanced building ever constructed. The brainchild of Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han), the Pearl promises to be a city in the sky in Hong Kong.
Unfortunately, to build the Pearl, Zhao was forced to do business with terrorist and extortionist Kores Botha (Roland Møller), who infiltrates the Pearl with a gang of gun-toting thugs and proceeds to set the building ablaze in order to retrieve a USB drive that implicates his illegal activities. With his wife and children trapped inside, Sawyer becomes a man on a mission to not only enter the Pearl but also brave the odds and rescue his family.
It doesn’t take long to see the clear differences between Die Hard and Skyscraper; Johnson, a physical specimen, is far more the muscleman than the snarky cockroach embodied by Bruce Willis. Sawyer is far more about the physical stunts and acts than John McClane, who was beat up to shit and still kept coming; the role of Sawyer showcases the Rock’s more vulnerable side, it’s true, and he spends much of the film nursing injuries and overcoming his emotion to find unique ways around problems, but he’s far more likely to leap from a construction crane, climb a rope, and stabilise a collapsing bridge than enter into a fist fight with a gun-wielding terrorist.
Møller, though relatively well-rounded and reasonably charismatic, is no Alan Rickman but, to be fair, very few actors are. Far from Rickman’s chilling, magnetic Hans Gruber, Botha is a driven and focused individual who is more than capable of backing up his ice-cold threats with physical violence. His willingness to take the Rock’s daughter hostage shows how he will do anything to retrieve his USB drive and he makes for a serviceable villain.
Rounding out the cast are Neve Campbell as Sawyer’s wife, Sarah, who is far from a damsel in distress; she holds her own in a fight, uses logical and intelligent solutions to help keep her children safe, and convinces the Hong Kong authorities that Sawyer is trying to save lives rather than being responsible for the blazing skyscraper.
Make no mistake, this film is an over-the-top action set piece through and through and going into it expecting anything deeper or more meaningful is a fool’s errand. The Rock defies physics, logic, and gravity on more than one occasion but it’s the freakin’ Rock! Would you really want anything else? If you’re looking for a movie to shut your brain off (not completely, I should add; it’s not a brainless action movie) and just enjoy with some friends, a few drinks, and a pizza than Skyscraper more than meets that criteria.
Recommended: Sure, yeah, the world always needs more Die Hard-like films.
Best moment: Anything involving the Rock using his physicality to absolutely absurd limits, like leaping to the Pearl or climbing down it using a precariously-secured rope.
Worst moment: The side plot that sees the Hong Kong authorities brand Sawyer a criminal was a bit annoying, and didn’t really play into the overall plot in the end.