The “Die Hard” franchise consists of five movies, but if one were to count its countless rip-offs, the number would skyrocket. After John McClane’s original outing started the “one man fights bad guys to reach a time-sensitive goal in a single location” formula, other movies rose up to swap settings: “Speed” was “Die Hard” on a bus; “Air Force One” was “Die Hard” on a plane; “Die Hard” in the White House happened two times in one year. It was inevitable that a movie like “Skyscraper” would scrape up “Die Hard” with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Filmmaker Rawson Marshall Thurber—responsible for comedies like “Dodgeball” and “Central Intelligence”—has switched to the action genre, though it’s more satisfying to believe that he’s secretly making another comedy: “Skyscraper” has as much accidental humor as it does intentional jokes. This is a movie wherein “The Rock” wins a gunfight and climbs a skyscraper with a prosthetic leg, for God’s sake.
Though it’s hard to fault Thurber as an action director. “Skyscraper” is a competently made action movie. The cinematography is fluid, the production design is attractive, the action choreography is coherent and sometimes exciting—it comes together nicely. It’s also big and loud and dumb, but hey, it’s “Die Hard” in a skyscraper, what did you expect?
The question lies in whether the big, loud, dumb, derivative movie is worth paying your summer money for. If it were released right after “Die Hard” in the 80s, it might’ve found a home as another passable rip-off, but a number of genre tropes haven’t aged well at all.
Given America’s most repetitive trauma, should the shortcut to hating the villains really be watching them shoot up a room full of innocent people? That’s a cheap, vicious way to entertain. Equally cheap is the apathetic insistence that one-dimensional female characters can do action movie things too. And there are entire books written on the white savior complex in cinema now—having Neve Campbell’s white character solve all of the Chinese Police’s problems is a bit tactless.
Thankfully, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is front and center. His acting ability continues to astound. Blockbusters have been making a habit of casting him to save otherwise terrible movies, and he honestly makes it work. Unlike Chris Pratt—who has comedic talent but whose action star potential was sorely overestimated—”The Rock” has gravitas to match his charm. The best-case scenario for “Skyscraper” is as a showcase of his talent.
Otherwise, there are as many plot holes as there are floors in the titular structure, and the characters are utterly forgettable—John McClane was a relatable everyman; Will Sawyer is a former FBI agent because he must be able to do physically demanding stunts, and he loves his family because he needs a reason to do physically demanding stunts. There are worse ways to kill time, but this movie isn’t worth theater prices.