After 30 years, I suppose it was inevitable. We’ve had Die Hard on a train, Die Hard on a plane, in a subway, at the mall, in space, and in the White House (twice). Now we’ve come full circle, back to Die Hard in a high rise, with writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s Skyscraper. And though it pales in comparison to the John McTiernan classic, it still blows into theaters as a high-octane, tightrope walk of a summer popcorn flick, helping Dwayne Johnson put April’s disastrous Rampage far behind him.
Johnson stars as Will Sawyer, a private consultant called in to offer his take on the security measures at Hong Kong’s The Pearl—a 220-story skyscraper tricked out with every conceivable bit of technology and modern convenience. Soon after Sawyer’s inspection, terrorists arrive and sabotage all those systems and set the building on fire. Why? We don’t know yet.
Meanwhile Sawyer’s family, who are guests in The Pearl, get trapped two floors above the fire while he’s out at a remote site with the security team. So not only does Sawyer need to save his family, he first needs to break back into the locked-down building to get to them.
Thurber’s by-the-book screenplay provides no shortage of opportunities for us to watch Johnson hang by his fingernails two thousand feet up, whether it’s after jumping into the building from a tower crane or traversing the 200th-floor curtain wall with only duct tape and a little rope. And even though the script doesn’t offer much else—the villains are boring, and Die Hard’s trademark humor (“Ho-ho-ho”) is nowhere to be found—the action sequences pick up the slack nicely and make Skyscraper a fun, passable success.
Most of the credit goes to Johnson himself, who has firmly established himself as a bankable talent, often despite the material he’s given to work with. Much of Skyscraper involves Johnson dangling, swinging, climbing, and rappelling, but even in the non-action moments, he’s got chops, particularly in his scenes with on-screen wife Neve Campbell (making her return to feature films after seven years away—assuming we don’t count the 2015 low-budget flop Walter. And who does?).
Thurber may not have hit quite the home run as he did the last time out, when he directed Johnson in 2016’s Central Intelligence, but Skyscraper manages to accomplish what it set out to do—offer up a couple hours of white knuckle, vertigo-inducing summer fun. It may not be Die Hard in a high-rise, but it’s still enough to offer up a couple yippie-ki-yays along the way.