Movie review: Solidly built

Skyscraper, starring Dwayne Johnson, provides stellar action and some pretty views, but does little to tower above the competition.

Dwayne Johnson is churning out action movies like they’re nothing. In the past few years alone we’ve gotten CGI-fueled romps like San Andreas and The Fate of the Furious, and just a few months ago he took on kaiju monsters in Rampage.

So before Skyscraper even begins, it feels overly familiar. The movie’s premise of an action star performing stunts through a skyscraper has drawn plenty of comparison to Die Hard. It even released the day after the action classic’s 30th birthday.

Skyscraper has the benefit of releasing in the current year though, meaning the action can be more extreme. Johnson’s Will Sawyer, a former FBI agent who left as an amputee, has to navigate a fictional wonder of an architectural structure. A modern marvel known as the “Pearl” is erected in Hong Kong — a building that stands 225 floors and 3,500 feet tall. It’s got everything you need for some awesome set pieces — a 30-story tall hanging garden, a death-defying elevator system and even a room equipped with a series of funhouse-style mirrors for no discernable reason other than to ramp up the excitement.

The movie takes full advantage of its clever set designs. See those sword-sharp wind turbines? Of course Dwayne Johnson is going to jump through them at some point. He can’t resist. Bet you didn’t guess they’d also be on fire, though.

So for as long as the movie is delivering on its promise of cool set pieces and Johnson’s reliable stunt work, it’s stupidly fun. Sawyer’s family (wife played by Neve Campbell and two kids) are the first to move in to the Pearl so Sawyer can conduct security tests before it opens publicly. There’s some sort of conspiracy surrounding it involving international terrorists, and the building is lit ablaze with Sawyer’s family still inside.

In typical the Rock style, Sawyer goes from 0 to 100 within seconds. Upon discovering his family is inside the blazing structure, his immediate reaction is to scale nearby construction equipment and smash his way through the glass hundreds of feet in the air. He struggles with the concept of using the front door. Oh, and he’s also being pursued by the terrorists at this point. It’s a (literal) leap in logic, but who’s complaining?

Silly fun is what you want from a movie like this.

Director Rawson Marshall Thurber has worked with the Rock before on 2016’s Central Intelligence. He crafts his action scenes with suspense and weight. Take the construction equipment scene, for example. Sawyer ends up dangling hundreds of feet in the air as he attempts to scale the tower and manipulate the equipment. Far below him you can see lights and a crowd of breathless spectators watching his endeavor streamed on the news. Above him, helicopters hover, waiting to capture him. As he yanks himself to safety, the crowd cheers with glee. There’s plenty of moving pieces during all moments of the movie, providing thrills simultaneously with levity.

Those hoping for a mindless summer actioner will get what they want with Skyscraper. It doesn’t tower above other entries in the genre, but at times it does give a pretty view. The Rock is almost his own subgenre at this point, though audiences may be growing tired of his tried and true routine. Opening weekend box office returns for this one aren’t stellar ($65 million worldwide on a $125 million budget, though it has yet to open in China). The Rock may need some renovations.