Movie Review: Skyscraper (2018)
The people who made “Skyscraper” seemed to say to themselves, “OK, whatever ‘Die Hard’ did, let’s double it!”
So in “Die Hard,” John McClane loses his shoes. In “Skyscraper,” Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) has a prosthetic leg. In “Die Hard,” Nakatomi Tower is pretty tall. In “Skyscraper,” The Pearl is the tallest building in the world. McClane’s estranged wife is a hostage in the building; for Sawyer it’s his entire family.
McClane is a cop, Sawyer is ex-FBI. McClane is buff, Sawyer is The Rock.
Of course, it doesn’t work. In fact, it's just awful.
Why don’t we give a shit about any of it? Why is “Die Hard” so much better? Because McClane has personality? Because he seems like an average joe? He complains in the air duct: “Come to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs.” He references pop culture: “Ehhh! Sorry, Hans, wrong guess. Would you like to go for Double Jeopardy where the scores can really change?” He's the smartass in the back row. He doesn’t want to be the hero, he’s just trapped in the building and has to make do until the cavalry arrives; but then he finds outs, no, he’s the cavalry. Half his lines are classics: “Make fists with your toes.” “Welcome to the party, pal.” “Yippee-kai-yay, motherfucker.”
(For more on why “Die Hard” rocks, see here.)
Will Sawyer doesn’t have any memorable lines. He doesn’t have a memorable personality. He’s a bland nice guy whose sole mission is to save his family. Even his name is bland: “Will Sawyer” C‘mon, people, it’s The Rock. Give the man at least one hard consonant.
Plus you more-or-less buy what happens in “Die Hard.” You buy that Bruce Willis is a cop, you buy Bonnie Bedilia as his estranged wife and up-and-coming executive. The building seems real, the terrorists seem splashy but kinda real. Most of what McClane does—even the crazy outside-the-building stuff—seems vaguely plausible.
Do I buy The Rock as a security executive? Neve Campbell as a surgeon? Do I believe the size and shape of The Pearl in Hong Kong: 3500 feet, 240 stories, with outside turbines forever spinning? Do I believe that Sawyer, who must weight 250 and has a prosthetic leg, can climb a building crane, swing it close to the Pearl, and leap from the crane’s top into an open window on the Pearl 150 stories above the ground? No, no, no. None of it. The one thing they get right is the duct tape. It’s the best part of the film. It’s the John McClane part of the film.
When the movie begins, the Pearl is nearing completion, and its designer, Zhao Jong Li (Ng Chin Han), has looked at different security experts; but based on the advice of his—I guess—assistant, Ben (Pablo Schreiber of “The Wire” and “Orange if the New Black”), he chooses Sawyer, who is an ex-FBI buddy of Ben’s. Plus Sawyer’s done his homework or whatever. He’s even kind of memorized a Chinese phrase his wife taught him: 很高兴认识你: “Nice to know you.” It’s in Mandarin, but later we hear her speak Cantonese to a Hong Kong police officer. So does she know both languages? And she’s a surgeon? And she looks like Neve Campbell? 好棒啊!
Getting Zhao to hire Sawyer is part of the bad guys’ plot, by the way. Imagine that. They need a patsy, and who better than 250-pounds of solid ex-FBI muscle? Ben is in on the plot, of course, which you can tell by the way he fidgets and because he's played by Pornstache Mendez. Pierce, the accountant (Noah Taylor), is a traitor, too, which you can tell by the way he glowers and the fact that he’s played by Locke from “Game of Thrones.” Everything is telegraphed here. None of it is a surprise.
Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when Pablo told his friends about his new role:
Yeah, and I get into a fight with the Rock!
Well, I’m ex-FBI.
So how long does it last—a second?
No, but he doesn’t expect it.
C'mon, I could totally take him out.
For ice cream?
Here’s the scheme. An international mob organization, run, as usual, by a Scandinavian (Roland Møller, playing Kores Botha), shakes down Zhang halfway through construction, demanding kickbacks sent to encrypted bank accounts. Except Zhang is Chinese and shit, so he un-encrypts it all and gets all their real names, and he keeps this info in a safe in his penthouse on the 240th floor. That’s why they start a fire on the 90th floor and turn off all fire-safety protocol; to get this info. Which I’m sure is backed up nowhere.
The bad guys then get Ben to get Zhang to hire Sawyer because all security measures will be on one tablet, and how hard can it be to steal one tablet away from the Rock? But they do it, Sawyer is blamed by the media, but he eludes the cops, climbs the crane, leaps into the burning building to save his family—all to the cheers of Chinese onlookers. Mother and son get out first but then daughter is held hostage on the rooftop. Sawyer and Zhang have to work together to get her free and beat the bad guys. They do. But even then they’re about to be burnt to a crisp.
Thankfully, back on the ground, Dr. Sarah has already defeated the bitchy Chinese chick with the mod haircut (Hannah Quinlivan), taken back the tablet, and promptly puts the fire protocol back online to save husband and child. Is there nothing Neve can’t do?
We were so much older then
Afterwards, in the helicopter transporting them to safety, Sawyer asks Zhang “What next?” and Zhang contemplates for a second before replying, “We rebuild.” The Rock smiles. Oh, that indomitable human spirit.
Compare this with the end of another obvious predecessor, “The Towering Inferno,” which was released in December 1974, a few months after Nixon resigned in the wake of the Watergate scandal, and a more cynical time generally. Its architect, played by Paul Newman, surveys the charred wreckage of his building and says:
I don’t know. Maybe they just oughta leave it the way it is. Kind of a shrine to all the bullshit in the world.
I miss those days.