A lot of the discussion surrounding The Rock’s new action movie, Skyscraper, is that it sounds exactly like Die Hard. The comparison is pretty clear. They both tell the story of terrorists attacking a building and a tough husband fighting to save his wife (and children, in The Rock’s case). It’s not 1988 anymore, though, and movies like Die Hard rarely get made. Few studio blockbusters are based on original material these days. July, in particular, has been nothing but sequels and adaptations, with entries in Marvel, Purge, and Mission: Impossible franchises in addition to the sequels Equalizer 2 and Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again. So what makes Universal so confident enough in Skyscraper to release it in such a busy season? The answer is right on the poster, managing to smolder while dangling by one hand from a burning building.
Dwayne Johnson’s last few years have seen him emerge as one of the biggest movie stars in the world, both physically and financially. After domestic hits like Jumanji and the Fast and Furious series, plus San Andreas and Rampage which have made their budget back overseas, The Rock is basically a guaranteed money maker. Skyscraper puts Johnson back in his preferred role: a family man with a background of badassery. He plays Will Sawyer, a retired FBI hostage expert who’s now a security contractor at the newly crowned Tallest Building in the World. When a crime syndicate set the building on fire, targeting the CEO who lives on the top floor, Sawyer’s wife and kids are trapped above the fireline and Will must break back into the burning building to save the day.
This is where the crane jump that’s on the poster comes in. Climbing up and then jumping off a 100-story crane is something that seems impossible, but Johnson’s physicality makes it believable. This is an actor that famously eats 7 meals a day to fuel his workout routine. Nothing is out of the realm of possibilities. That opens the door to Mission: Impossible-type stunts, including a sequence where The Rock scales the side of the building that seems to be a straight copy from Ghost Protocol. Unfortunately the “he actually did that” feeling doesn’t carry over -- these stunts pretty clearly use some green screens -- but Johnson sells all the stunts pretty well.
The Rock isn’t the only one who gets to be a badass, though. Neve Campbell, as Sawyer’s trapped wife, gets the mom-of-the-year award. Not only is she able to keep her children safe in the fire, but she takes down all of the terrorists she runs into. Once she gets out of the tower, she meets up with the police and solves the case for them -- clearing her husband’s name in the process. It’s refreshing to see a marriage portrayed where both members have agency and importance to the story.
The movie as a whole is refreshingly diverse. Set in Hong Kong, most of the smaller characters are filled by Asian actors, including Byron Mann as the detective investigating the fire. Mann ensured that the correct language would be used in the police scenes so that the Chinese audiences wouldn’t be bothered by the inaccuracies that Hollywood movies are prone to. That attention to international audiences will surely pay off. In a time where the international box office is as important as the domestic, it pays to have a diverse cast and a non-American setting. Foreign audiences will appreciate that attention to detail and the familiar setting. Domestic audiences might need a little more.
There’s a lot that’s forgettable about Skyscraper: the fight scenes, the villain, the mirror maze where the final fight takes place. At the end of the day it’s a fairly generic action movie. There’s not a whole lot to set it apart from the other movies coming out this summer. In a time of sequels and franchises, a movie has to give me a reason to show up. That could be a returning character, a nostalgic plot, or a resolution of a cliffhanger set up in the last movie. No matter how hard he tries, The Rock doesn’t quite have enough charisma to hold it all together on his own.