I’ll start off with the basics: “Skyscraper” is not as good as “Die Hard,” is pretty close in quality to “The Towering Inferno,” is occasionally exciting but never wholly captivating, and makes the best plot use of a prosthetic leg in recent moviegoing memory. It is a decent “watch it on an six-hour flight to Los Angeles because you finished reading ‘Kitchen Confidential’ and your laptop ran out of battery” movie, but not a good “let’s pay Candace the babysitter twice her $25 hourly rate just for a night out at the movies” movie.
Starring Dwayne Johnson as himself but under the name of Will Sawyer, “Skyscraper” follows Johnson’s former FBI Hostage Team member and now security consultant amputee as he provides feedback on a state-of-the-art, massive Hong Kong skyscraper known as “The Pearl.” With exotic zoos, indoor gardens and overpriced condos in plentiful supply, this building is literally the most advanced of its kind in the world and a natural target for terrorists like Kores Botha (Rolland Moller). When Botha infiltrates the building and lights it ablaze, Sawyer’s wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) and their two children are trapped. Sawyer is framed for the incident, but has to find a way to get inside the building, rescue his family, and stop Botha’s crew.
There’s some interesting ideas here about how buildings, once meant to be parts of urban areas, are now acting as entire cities of their own. But this building designed to be a living, enclosed community is now acting as a hellish, glass torture chamber. The problem with this massive building is that it leaves “Skyscraper” unable to capitalize on what makes entrapped thrillers so exhilarating to begin with: confined spaces. We never get a true sense of where certain characters are, how far or close they are to one another, how threatening the wild blazes on one floor are to individuals on another. Nakatomi Plaza was big, but we had a strong grasp of the building’s layout without McClane or Gruber ever having to stumble on their blueprints.
But “Skyscraper” does add a little heat to the tall-building-thriller genre by making outside natural forces the real threat rather than the terrorists themselves. Both Sawyer and Sarah are capable of disarming gun-wielding bad guys with ease; its navigating the treacherous, unpredictable fire that proves more troublesome. “Die Hard” recognized the dangers and follies of how choices made in one’s self interest can directly harm another person unintentionally. “Skyscraper” argues even with humans’ best or worst technological achievements and intentions in mind, mother nature will still trump all.
These provoking themes and the occasional thrilling sequences still don’t alleviate “Skyscraper’s” primary ill: all of its characters are boring. Sawyer’s psyche must have been influenced too much by his prosthetic leg because his personality feels totally artificial. Sarah is a kick ass matriarch but with little interesting things to say. And aside from Botha’s early, intriguing quote about setting a fire to a house to see what a man loves most, he ranks far behind on the cinematic terrorist must-watch list.