Okay, moviegoers, it’s time to get on board the nostalgia train again, although Skyscraper isn't a sequel or reboot. But the latest Dwayne Johnson action film is inspired by past movies and has a paint-by-numbers look to it. Directed and written by Rawson Marshall Thurber (We’re the Millers, Central Intelligence), Skyscraper is a mash-up of Die Hard and The Towering Inferno (they threw in a little Enter the Dragon just to be safe), updated to fit today’s climate and homogenized to uphold Johnson’s image as an actor with universal appeal.

That means Skyscraper is a safe adventure that’s serious enough to provide tension but light enough to forget about it afterwards. Johnson and Thurber aim to please without offending, because this is a sensitive time and you can’t make boatloads of money if you alienate even the smallest portion of your audience. That’s an important thing to know when taking in Skyscraper because Johnson’s image may actually be more important than any aspect of making a more compelling film.

Johnson plays Will Sawyer, a security expert who’s currently assessing the security of the world’s most modern and tallest skyscraper. Known as the Pearl, it’s located in Hong Kong and Will is staying there with his family, Sarah (Neve Campbell) and twins Georgia (McKenna Roberts) and Henry (Noah Cottrell). This is Will’s new life – he was in the FBI before an incident injured him and he lost part of his left leg. That led him to his new life in security assessment, and his old war buddy, Ben (Pablo Schreiber), helped Will land this job.

Will is nearly done with his assessment when things go wrong – a group of terrorists descend upon the Pearl while Sarah, Georgia and Henry are still inside. Of course, being the caring and husband and father he is, Will does everything in his power to save his family, and if he has to beat up a few bad guys to get to them then that’s fine with him (and good for eager viewers).

In order to uphold the hero dad image Johnson so desires, we must note Will isn’t indestructible. Viewers realize this early on, and thus Will is intriguing and relatable. Additionally, Will is a moralistic man and killing baddies isn’t something he wants to practice regularly. Will is willing to give everyone a chance, but that’s willingness cost him his leg, among other things (this is covered during the prologue). That means Will Sawyers isn’t a perfect action hero who can dispatch villains without fear of death. Instead, he is a concerned family man with high moral fiber. To further cement this, Will doesn’t carry a gun and rarely uses one. He uses his replacement leg more often, which is actually a smart way of highlighting his handicap.

With all the focus on image-building, little time is left to develop supporting characters. The bad guys, primarily Kores Botha (Roland Møller) and Xia (Hannah Quinlivan), are one-note. Kores is not nearly as interesting as Die Hard’s Hans Gruber (played flawlessly by Alan Rickman), although he looks more menacing, while Xia is a typical ruthless killer whose beauty is only surpassed by her violent tendencies. For a PG-13 rated film there are plenty of senseless deaths, and Xia pulled the trigger in most cases.

One thing I approve of is Campbell (welcome back – it’s been awhile!) and how she’s used in Skyscraper. Sarah could’ve easily played the damsel in distress but she’s nearly as strong and resilient as her husband. Sarah plays a crucial role in beating the bad guys and saving the Pearl (it was on fire for most of its 102-minute running time). It was refreshing to see her making a difference instead of waiting around to be saved, or simply being the girl in the movie who screams a lot (I’m looking right at you, Kate Capshaw!).

Anyways, Skyscraper accomplishes its goals even though those goals aren’t lofty. Johnson can be proud that he’s created a film that nearly everyone can see and enjoy. It will entertain but not offend, but won’t leave a lasting impression. For me, this may be one of Johnson’s better movies since he allows himself to be an everyman who puts family first and sees violence as a last resort. That means the stunts will have to do (well, jumping from a crane 100 stories up to an adjacent building is definitely a wow moment).

Things could be worse, though. At least Johnson’s not running around trying to save everyone from his giant pet gorilla.

3 stars out of 5


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