If you’re going to make a movie about being trapped in a skyscraper with armed people coming after you then you’re going to get compared to Die Hard. Skyscraper is no Die Hard.
It’s not a sin to try to remake Die Hard, that film franchise tried (and failed) to do that way too many times. Olympus Has Fallen is a beat-by-beat remake of Die Hard that works fairly well. You can make a case that The Raid and Dredd are built on Die Hard, and those are both excellent.
But Skyscraper merely takes the concept of Die Hard, then throws the rest away. What’s left is the veneer of an action movie without the guts that would make it more engaging.
Skyscraper begins with Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) who is on the FBI hostage rescue team. An unfortunate accident takes his leg, but in the process, he meets his wife and changes his life for the better. He ends up getting a sweet gig as a security consultant for a futuristic skyscraper named The Pearl in Hong Kong, where his family has taken residence. A series of events lead to a flaming disaster with his family trapped inside, and the police chasing him on the outside.
Rawson Marshall Thurber (who directed We’re the Millers and Dodgeball) both wrote and directed Skyscraper. I’m not going to beat him over the head for his direction. While there are no visual flourishes here, his action scenes are well executed, and he does a good job of making you feel some acrophobia as Dwayne Johnson hangs from insane heights.
In fact, if you just want to go to a movie and disconnect from the world a bit and enjoy some action Skyscraper has that and it’s fine.
The building is beautiful. The movie moves right along. It does have entertaining scenes. But the problems lie in the script.
The whole impetus for the movie is extremely thin. Most of the time I can overlook this sort of thing and just enjoy the movie the way it’s intended, but the whole movie relies on you believing the motivation of the bad guys.
Additionally, there’s very little character development or any sort of arc with anyone. The kids are merely there to be rescued. The wife (Neve Campbell) is severely underutilized. And Will Sawyer, who is supposed to “know (the skyscraper) better than the architect” barely demonstrates his encyclopedic knowledge of the high-tech building.
What this all adds up to is the audience having zero investment in the characters when all the crazy stuff starts happening. And at the end, it completely falls flat.
I like Dwayne Johnson, and he’s a producer on this film so he was likely integral in getting it made, but he’s not the right guy for this role. Let’s go back to Die Hard. One of the reasons that movie worked was that they didn’t cast Arnold Schwarzenegger in the role. Bruce Willis is a normal guy. The feats that he performs takes on an extra dimension because he’s not a superhero.
Dwayne Johnson makes superheroes look puny. He comes in first place in most gun shows.
Yes, they made him more vulnerable by having him lose his leg, but… Dwayne Johnson is THE ROCK.
There’s no subtext or any follow-up on anything that’s set up early in the film. Will Sawyer says that he “laid down his sword” after the accident. When it’s time for him to figuratively or literally “pick up the sword” there’s no moment where there’s any introspection.
For a writer/director that did We’re the Millers and Dodgeball, ironically there’s almost no humor in this film, and it could have used that.
One last time, I invoke Die Hard, and this is the most important point. In the foundational filmmaking rulebook Die Hard teaches us a lesson that so many movies still miss—make the villains interesting.
Die Hard could have easily been the story of the bad guys who were trying to pull off a big heist. Alan Rickman’s brilliant portrayal of Hans Gruber and the rest of his charismatic Eurotrash villains were funny and clever and highly experienced. Part of the fun in Die Hard was watching these guys almost pull off their plan.
Skyscraper is filled with good actors playing these villains with literally no backstory, no intelligence, and no motivation. They are hashtag bad, just because. And that’s boring as hell.
They quickly eliminate the best bad guy at the beginning of the film. That’s a rookie screenwriter mistake.
The second-most-interesting villain is Xia, played by Hannah Quinlivan, and she’s not even in the damn building.
The police are imbeciles, merely to serve the flimsy plot, and I guess no one thought to call the fire department. This movie is merely a series of unfortunate accidents that are stitched together by action scenes.
I’m not the kind of movie critic that goes into a movie and looks for “plot holes” or shit to gripe about. I give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt and just try to enjoy the movie. If I get to the finale and I’m disappointed I do a little due diligence to figure out why it missed the mark.
Skyscraper looks like a big-budget blockbuster and there are some action scenes that will put a hitch in your breath. But when everyone gets huggy at the end of the movie, you’re not going to care at all.
The lack of heart, because they failed to give us characters we love and sympathize with, and the lack of a believable plot, makes Skyscraper less of a towering inferno and more like a warm matchstick.