‘Skyscraper’ is Just Another Inferior ‘Die Hard’ Riff

A couple of insane set pieces don’t make up for a lack of personality

by Philbert Dy

Skyscraper starts with a prologue ten years in the past, where FBI agent Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) is part of a strike team dealing with a tense hostage situation. It ends in disaster, and he gets caught in an explosion and subsequently loses a leg. Cut to present day Hong Kong. Sawyer is working as a third party security consultant for The Pearl, a 3,500-foot skyscraper constructed by Chinese tycoon Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han). Unfortunately, Zhao has made some pretty formidable enemies, and what ought to be a routine inspection becomes an ordeal that has Sawyer having to find his way into a burning skyscraper, fending off all manner of threats along the way.

At just over 100 minutes, one would expect this film to be a tight little action thriller. But the prologue immediately puts that idea to rest, as the film squanders time on an overworked origin setting up moments that would have probably worked even without this added explanation. It takes a long time, too, to get Sawyer into the building dealing with the problem at hand, and that involves some really shaky physics that the film itself brings attention to. It’s just a lot of work to get to what is essentially just another inferior Die Hard riff.

The movie is really just built around two big set pieces, both involving the main character having to deal with the ridiculous heights of the titular structure. And these set pieces aren’t particularly good at conveying that scale. The film as a whole looks a little murky, and these big set pieces suffer from subpar digital effects that do little to make the audience feel the altitudes involved. There’s one decent fight scene set in a kitchen, but the rest feel either cramped or gimmicky. The climactic confrontation is practically impossible to follow, the movie doubling down on digital nonsense instead of just letting Johnson flex his formidable action muscles.

Most of the rest of the film feels like filler. None of these characters are interesting. The villains are almost completely devoid personality, their actions lacking the kind of intrigue that makes a story like this hum. The screenwriting as a whole seems intent on making all of this as predictable an experience as possible. It leads the audience by the hand into every moment, making sure that they can telegraph everything that’s going to happen in the third act.

Dwayne Johnson takes on the John McClane role, which is an odd fit. While the actor certainly has the charisma, his gigantic build makes it hard to think of him as an underdog. The film does a lot to layer vulnerability on to the actor, and Johnson himself tries very hard to seem like a normal guy, but in the end it all still just feels like artifice. There isn’t much else to talk about when it comes to the acting, as there just aren’t any other meaty roles. Chin Han puts on a decent showing, though, and relative newcomer Hannah Quinlivan makes an impression.

Skyscraper, despite probably having a budget that dwarfs Die Hard, comes off as a cheap knockoff of the original. The film puts on plenty of bells and whistles, and more than one ludicrous set piece that might pass for thrilling among less demanding audiences. But it fundamentally lacks personality, much of its plotting and action feeling perfunctory rather than necessary. Even with a bonafide star like Dwayne Johnson at the helm, the movie just doesn’t feel exciting, even as it sends its gigantic lead actor leaping through the air a thousand feet from the ground. It somehow manages to make that conceptually insane stunt feel utterly mundane.

Skyscraper is currently in cinemas.