The Rock uses dizzying heights and dad strength in ‘Skyscraper’ to give audiences a thrilling ride

‘Skyscraper.’ Universal
  • Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson gives one of his most thrilling performances in “Skyscraper.”
  • He plays a father who has to save his family from a burning building.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson might be up against his toughest adversary yet: summer sequels.

Johnson jumps into the already crowded 2018 summer movie season with one of the few non-sequel movies released by a studio this year.

Universal’s “Skyscraper” (opening Friday) is an “original” movie in the sense that it doesn’t feature one of Johnson’s hulking characters we’ve already seen him play. But you’ve certainly seen the movie before.

Taking its inspiration from movies like “Die Hard,” “The Towering Inferno,” and “The Fugitive,” this Johnson blockbuster, directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (“Central Intelligence”), has our hero playing a man who will stop at nothing to save his family from a burning building.

Johnson is former FBI agent Will Sawyer who now assesses security for skyscrapers. His latest job is looking over the tallest building in the world, The Pearl, in Hong Kong. Though the building’s lower floor commercial spaces have been open for some time, Will and his family are the first people ever to live in the residence part of the towering skyscraper while Will does his assessment. The residence is located in the upper levels of this 240-floor structure.

Right out of the gate the movie shows us that Will is going to be a more mellow character than we are used to Johnson playing. He’s sporting some grey in his beard and has a professional look with a dress shirt and slacks (that’s right, no khakis or showing off his massive physique). Oh, and did we mention that Will is also an amputee? “Skyscraper” takes place 10 years after his leg was blown off following a raid on a house in which the suspect detonated a bomb in front of Will and his team. Will has since become a dedicated family man with two children and his wife, Sarah (Neve Campbell), who was his nurse the night he was brought to the hospital after the explosion.

Skyscraper 3
Neve Campbell and Dwayne Johnson in ‘Skyscraper.’ Universal

The Pearl is owned and designed by billionaire Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han from “The Dark Knight”) and he’s got a few enemies: namely a terrorist group who wants to take control of The Pearl. And you guessed it, Will is the only one who can stop them.

But director Thurber, who also has the lone screenwriting credit, humanizes the story. He makes it more about Will’s drive to save his family first. It just so happens he also has to kill the bad guys to do it. Will racing to save his family after the terrorists set The Pearl on fire makes for a thrilling movie to catch on a summer evening.

Is the movie completely unrealistic and full of cliches and head-scratching plot points? Of course. But like “Rampage” earlier this year, you’re paying your hard-earned money to see The Rock do some crazy stuff, and you won’t be disappointed.

He’s one of the few actors these days that can get mass audiences to come to the movie just because he’s on the poster. And “Skyscraper” is going to be the ultimate test of his popularity because there’s no seasoned franchises (“Fast and the Furious”) or IPs (“Rampage,” “Jumanji”) for him to stand on. This one is 100% The Rock and he will rise or fall at the box office because of himself.

For me, Johnson is as thrilling in this as anything he’s done. It’s not his most entertaining work, but the cliffhanger thriller matched with his ability to keep you glued to the screen is perfectly done.

In this movie, he’s hanging off a building with just duct tape keeping him from falling, he’s jumping off a crane into the building (you may have seen him do that in the movie’s poster), and he shows off the ultimate example of dad strength when he holds detached wires in place so his family can get across a wobbly bridge. His prosthetic leg helps him out a few times, too.

“Skyscraper” certainly has a more serious tone than most of what Johnson and Thurber do, which might throw some audiences off. However, if you’re looking for something that will keep you on the edge of your seat and might get you a little choked up by the end, this is the summer movie for you.