Die Hard may technically be a Christmas movie, but Skyscraper is actually a better fit for the holiday season. Even if it’s set in the heat of summer and premieres in mid-July, the latest Dwayne Johnson blockbuster is a clear homage to the iconic Bruce Willis vehicle, but unlike Die Hard, Skyscraper is totally bloodless and packed with the kind of action the whole family can enjoy together.
A throwback to an era before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Skyscraper is a quintessential, stand-alone Hollywood thrill ride. But unexpectedly, and so unlike its Die Hard roots, Skyscraper is one of the least gruesome action movies in recent memory. With its emphasis on family and survival over fist-pumping bloodshed, the film is a monument to the towering heroism of Dwayne Johnson’s onscreen personas.
In Skyscraper, directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, Dwayne Johnson plays Will Sawyer, an ex-FBI negotiator and amputee who evaluates the security measures of new buildings. He’s in Hong Kong on the biggest job of his career yet: A new mile-high megastructure dubbed “The Pearl,” owned and financed by an arrogant super billionaire (Chin Han). Days away from its grand opening, Sawyer and his family are the first to take up temporary residence, which becomes a problem when The Pearl is overrun by terrorists.
Echoes of Die Hard are peppered throughout Skyscraper. Like McClane before him, Johnson’s Sawyer is an everyman whose feats to overcome his disability — a missing left leg, lost in a botched hostage rescue in the prologue — will win audiences over. (The big difference is that Bruce Willis had a relatable dadbod, while it’s tougher to connect with the herculean Dwayne Johnson and his godbod)
Like Nakatomi Plaza, The Pearl is a metaphor for Asia’s economic prosperity in an increasingly globalized stage. It’s hard not to read the movie itself like The Pearl; as a co-production between Hollywood and Chinese studios, Skyscraper becomes something for “The Rock” to climb and conquer.
Many of these Die Hard comparisons are warranted, as Johnson himself has said the film is an homage. But, based on film titles alone, it’s clear Skyscraper prioritizes something other than bad guys dying very hard. If Die Hard is about killing and surviving, Skyscraper is about a really tall building.
Die Hard fans don’t remember the structural integrity of Nakatomi Plaza. They remember McClane’s survival against all odds. Compare that to Skyscraper, which thrills with Sawyer’s attempts to reunite with his family, but never because he’s dodging gunfire or offing goons. It’s through the heart-stopping moments, like when Sawyer is hanging by his sweaty fingertips a mile in the sky, that Skyscraper carves its own identity distinct from any other movie it may or may not resemble.
Despite his hulking visual presence, it’s just not in Dwayne Johnson’s blood to rack up bodies. His recent films, from San Andreas to Rampage to Jumanji, which took place in a video game, hardly ever have deadly violence. Even in his last collaboration with Thurber in the comedy Central Intelligence, action was just the set-up to an onslaught of gags. There’s one fatal fight scene in Skyscraper where the former WWE star cameos his Rock Bottom maneuver, but his scant few “kills” are either necessary or circumstantial (think Batman at the end of Batman Begins).
Skyscraper is exciting, but it’s not violent. This is not a bad thing, it’s just worth pointing out given its uncanny resemblance to Die Hard, still one of the most violent mainstream action movies in history. Skyscraper is maybe more like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Exciting, fun, virtually bloodless. Though Dwayne Johnson has yet to actually don the tights of any character from Marvel or DC — his Black Adam is still far away from even shooting — Skyscraper is towering proof of Dwayne Johnson’s titanic movie heroism.
Skyscraper hits theaters on July 13.