Hollywood lore once told a story: once upon a time, in the coke fuelled era known as the 80’s, a bunch of movie executives were desperately trying to capitalise on the huge success that was Die Hard. Trying to cram the movie’s premise into other closed off areas, they wracked their brains: “Die Hard on a boat?” they reasoned. “Die Hard in a prison? On a plane? On a bus?”
Eventually one exec piped up: “Hey guys, how about Die Hard in a building!”
Whether or not this story of a creative dry heave is 100% true or not is up in the air, it fits perfectly with the concept of Dwayne Johnson’s Skyscraper.
It seems that the filmmakers were genuinely unsure as to which movie to rip off, Die Hard or The Towering Inferno despite the former originally being created to be a modern spiritual incarnation of the latter.
In the end they obviously threw their hands in the air and just announced “screw it, we’ll just rip BOTH of them off.”
So here we are, The Towering Die Hard, in a building…
Ok, firstly, all snark and sarcasm aside, Skyscraper, while conceptually derivative to the point where it’s almost insulting, is actually over 200 storeys of uncomplicated fun. As charismatic, huge and overblown as it’s inhumanly likeable leading man, you may have to flatline your brain patterns to get the most out of it but it’s childlike desire to be liked is oddly tough to resist.
After losing his leg in a hostage situation ten years ago, former cop Dwayne Johnson is now a security consultant for The Pearl, the tallest building in history. Signing off the final checks so that the residential sections can now be opened, a massive terrorist-shaped wrench us thrown into the works when terrorist-shaped terrorists come in, shut down the safety measures, and set the bastard thing alight.
Johnson, whose family is (of course) IN the building at the time, must race across down town Hong Kong and gain entrance to the sealed off super structure and rescue his wife (nice to see you back Neve Campbell!) and kids from excessive exposure to fire, both gun and regular.
Firstly, let’s get the bad points out of the way, because for a movie that’s trying to be this silly, most of them are mostly nitpicks anyway. For example: Dwayne Johnson cannot convincingly play an everyman any more than Arnold Schwarzenegger could. The man’s charisma is the size of a planet and easily contains as much gravity, so saddling him with trauma from a past event (re: Sudden Death, now it’s ripping of Die Hard ripoffs!) and trying to make him humble plays fine, but not natural. Plus, the terrorists lack any personality at all, the only thing separating the leader is he has bigger arms and more lines than the rest. These he chokes out in tough to pin down accent (for the record, me and the wife bet the farm on South African but we were WAY off) while fixing everyone with a thousand yard stare. It’s very basic.
However, if you DON’T have an aversion to turning off your brain for an hour and forty, there’s a lot here that rewards. Firstly, kudos for simply making the family mixed race and secondly not drawing ANY attention to it whatsoever. Doesn’t alter your enjoyment of the film in any way, it’s just nice they bothered. A manly hat tip to Johnson’s character having a disability too. While the prosthetic leg angle is played up nicely in action scenes (he dangles from the bloody thing at one point) it also shows that a one legged man at an ass kicking contest IS useful and more power to him.
Finally, and the major crown jewel, is the sheer amount of time involved of people dangling, hanging and falling off shit that somehow never gets dull. As this building seems to have more important control panels in inconvenient places that the fucking Death Star there’s unlimited scenarios where characters have to edge, crawl, sprint and time their leaps perfectly like they are trapped in some hellish video game.
Plus, for some weird reason the movie seems to play as the world’s most expensive advert for duck tape…
Yes, to belabour the point, originality is extraordinarily thin on the ground here but enjoyment levels aren’t.
Excitement and fun on a fair few levels…