How does this action film redefine how we see disability?

Skyscraper movie The Rock

There’s a particular trope we look for when it comes to action heroes. Some, like Die Hard’s John McClane, might be grizzled cops with a point to prove, while others, like The Fast and the Furious franchise’s Dominic Toretto, are ex-cons on the wrong side of the law.

Words by Camille Hogg

But whether lawmaker, breaker or futuristic cyborg, the action heroes we know and love are always lone wolves with a good stock of one-liners and a very firm sense of righting the wrongs – usually with their fists.

What we don’t look for, though, is vulnerability. McClane would never have foiled the terrorist plot if he’d had a crisis of confidence that stopped him pulling the trigger at a vital moment, and the fear of being caught by law enforcement didn’t seem to factor into Toretto’s daily grind of hijacking cars.

It’s vulnerability, however, that has become the defining factor of Skyscraper, the newest action hero scheduled to hit screens on 12th July.

Starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, the film follows Will Sawyer, an out-of-action amputee soldier who assesses building security systems for skyscrapers after retiring from active duty. Tasked with assessing the safety of the world’s tallest and most advanced building – spoiler alert, it’s not the Burj Khalifa, though that does get its screen time – Will notices some significant security flaws, all of which are roundly dismissed by his boss.

When terrorists exploit the building’s weaknesses and attack, turning it into a towering inferno, Will is forced to act, despite his disability, to save his family and the lives of all within.

For Johnson, himself from a family of military stock, the action film was the chance to shed more light on how disability is perceived, both on- and off-screen.

“My character is a disabled US war vet and former FBI hostage rescue team leader,” he noted in a post on Instagram, revealing his new role. “This character is inspired by the thousands of disabled US veterans and war heroes I’ve had the honour of shaking hands with over the years.

“Research for this film has been a real education for me from meeting with the world’s top skyscraper architects to spending amazing time with our US combat and disabled vets.”

With plenty of stunts, falls and jumps galore – one in particular that defies the laws of physics – it seems like disability can’t hold Will back from being the very definition of a true action hero. But for Johnson, that’s the point – disability shouldn’t become a defining factor for anyone, fictional or not.

“It was inspiring, but the main thing I got from it is that we need to normalise disabilities,” he added later in an interview with Esquire. “We need to get to a place where they are just totally looked past.”

Also starring: Neve Campbell, Pablo Schreiber, Noah Taylor and Kevin Rankin. Directed by: Rawson Marshall Thurber. Rating: PG13. Running time: 105 mins.

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