Have you ever had déjà vu while watching a film? You’ll have that nagging feeling throughout Skyscraper, the latest action flick from The Rock (Dwayne Johnson). Ominous thugs with Eastern European accents? Check. Battling said hoodlums through a tall building while awed spectators and news crews watch below? Double check. Pull off gravity-defying feats to save your wholesome family also trapped in said building? Triple check. But is there enough here that’s new and creative to make this worth your time?
The film follows Will Sawyer, a former FBI agent turned security building analyst following a botched standoff that left him with a prosthetic leg. His services bring him to manage a massive multi-purpose skyscraper that is the baby of tycoon Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han). While Sawyer is reviewing the building securities, things go left after a group of mercenaries, working on behalf of the Yakuza, set the building on the fire with Sawyer’s family trapped stories above. The goal of the fire is to demoralize and capture Long Ji, who has a flash drive with information that could destroy the criminal syndicates.
For a film that’s supposed to be centered on the skyscraper, some of the more compelling moments occur outside of it. The best fight scene happens early when Sawyer is betrayed by a former FBI comrade (played by Pablo Schreiber) who’s helping the villains hack the security protocols. The hand to hand combat is brutal as Schreiber fights dirty by ripping off Sawyer’s prosthetic leg. The living room and kitchen area is completely destroyed as they crash into appliances and struggle over a knife. Sadly, it’s one of the few realistic moments where the hero appears vulnerable and in real danger.
The murderous femme fatale Xia (played by Hannah Quinlivan) is by far the most deadly character. She kills without compunction and even her allies aren’t safe when they are no longer of use. Amazingly, this character has minimal interaction with the hero outside of a brief shootout. Instead, Xia’s climatic clash ends up being an abbreviated scrap with Sawyer’s wife Sarah (Neve Campbell). Size difference aside, it felt like a missed opportunity to not have Xia in the skyscraper for a cat and mouse-style end game.
Skyscraper nails it when it revels in the absurdity of the premise. When Sawyer is faced with the challenge of getting back into the blazing building, he decides to simply scale a convenient crane over 70 stories high in a matter of minutes. Need to hack a control panel on the outside of the building? No problem, I’ll just cover my hands in duct tape and carefully work my way across ledges despite a 2000 foot drop. It’s mindless fun that harkens back to the over-the-top theatrics that were regular occurrences in action films like Die Hard and Commando. In these moments the Rock’s prosthetic leg handicap is forgotten, allowing him to outrun point-blank automatic weapon assaults and, in the film’s money shot, nail a 50-foot long jump off the crane into the building.
Depending on your preferences, Skyscraper can either be a decent homage to action films of yesteryear or an annoying reminder of how bombastic and mindless the genre can be. But if you’re reading this, chances are the Rock’s magnetic star power is enough to make you decide for yourself.
Ismael AbduSalaam is an Atlanta-based writer specializing in music, sports and film journalism. He is the creator of the sports and entertainment site BeatsBoxingMayhem.com. He can be reached at @Ismael_BBM_NYK.