Movie Review: Skyscraper -The Rock scales silly heights

by Shane Dillon

An old friend recently moved home to Hong Kong for good, but before he went, we went ambling about through Dublin city centre, ending up near whatever The Point is called these days.

There’s plenty of industrial construction going on over there, and I nodded over at the rising towers across the river, saying how tall they were. This sent Mok into fits of giggles, as he gasped: “They… they are not ‘tall’!”

Maybe Mok was right – it’s hard to impress any Hong Konger with a ‘tall’ building or skyscraper – yet that was a challenge for writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber to achieve with his new HK-set film, Skyscraper (Cert 12A, 102 mins).

The titular tower here is The Pearl – a vast building that dwarfs everything else in HK, and filled with enough super-duper new tech that it might as well be a new Hogwarts extension, such are the almost magical aspects of some of its impossible tech.

Speaking of super-duper, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson rocks up as Will Sawyer; the brand-new tower’s security risk-assessing veteran who was formerly a top FBI agent.
Will’s an amputee, having had one leg part amputated in the line of action, but that’s just part of his character – although inevitably this returns as a character point when things go pyrotechnically wrong at The Pearl.

Long, slightly messy gangsters-and-money-laundering backstory short, it’s not long before The Pearl is attacked by terrorists and mercenaries, with half of the building set ablaze, Will’s wife and family trapped, and Will framed for the spreading fire.

What’s an ordinary dad with the body of a Greek god and a burning need to save his family from a blazing tower gonna do? The Rock’s gotta roll into action to get into the tower, climb the superstructure and – well, you can work out the rest.

Long before this point, and if you’ve seen any of the trailers, you’ll have already been thinking of two films, which loom large – even larger than The Pearl – over the film: Die Hard, and The Towering Inferno.

It’s inevitable that either such classic film returns as a mental reference again and again, but especially Die Hard, given how masterfully that unlikely Christmas film went on to definitively rule the ‘tower of terror’ genre.
That film’s towering success still casts a long, long shadow over similar films today and, in short, this ain’t no Die Hard, although it certainly tries hard to build on that 1988 film’s strengths.

The Rock rarely puts a foot wrong, as he’s such a naturally charismatic, likeable lead that even when saddled with an absolutely awful turkey like Doom (2005), he’s watchable, and Skyscraper very much plays to his strengths.

Team him up with his latest screen wife, Neve Campbell, and their standardly cute twin kids to save, and you have a fine, fun family in peril at the heart of the film.
However, it’s hard not to think of an uncomfortable darkness cast over all the spectacle by last year’s horrific Grenfell Tower blaze, giving this dumb-but-spectacular film a patina of peril that I’m sure the studio never intended.

More than that, despite some decent action set pieces and the best burning real or digital sets that money can buy or render, Skyscraper simply can’t reach the lofty, silly heights of Die Hard, playing things a little too earnestly.

Local Chinese talents do their best with their roles, but without a core villain as hammily enjoyable as Alan Rickman’s unforgettable Hans Gruber to cheer on, Skyscraper comes up short, delivering little more than a fun but forgettable action film.
It reaches for the skies, but you won’t come away with many stories about this particular tall tale. Verdict: 6/10

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