Sunday, September 04, 2005
Sombrero Grande says Sky High makes the grade
Review by Sombrero Grande
It’s hard for me to decide if I should describe Sky High as “Harry Potter meets The Incredibles” or “if John Hughes had written X-Men in the 1980s.” What I can say for certain about Sky High is that it’s a super amount more fun than you’d expect.
Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) is the teenage son of Jetstream (Kelly Preston) and The Commander (Kurt Russell), the world’s two most famous superheroes. When the movie begins, we find Will’s starting school at their old alma mater, Sky High, a training ground for superheroes and sidekicks that sits on a floating platform out of sight of villains and normal citizens. On top of all the typical problems high schoolers have to deal with (bullies, puberty, relationships, etc.), Will has the unique dilemma of not having gotten his super powers yet while all the other freshmen have. In a scene reminiscent of the portion of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone where the students are divided up into their various “houses” at Hogwarts, former sidekick Coach “Sonic” Boomer (played by fan-boy favorite Bruce Campbell) divides the Sky High freshmen into “heroes” and “sidekicks.” Without any discernable powers to display, Will is lumped in with the goofy-powered sidekicks (“sidekicks” being the “unpopular” kids and “heroes” being--well, you can figure it out).
There’s a lot of very funny, very clever material here. All the superhero clichés are trotted out and played with at some point or another, yet the clever writing makes them seem fresh. The sidekick classes are taught by the pathetic Mr. Boy (played perfectly by Dave Foley), former sidekick to The Commander, whose lessons range from general “Hero Support” to grammatical construction of catch phrases like, “Holy _____, _____ Man!” Many of the film’s funniest moments lie in “throw-away gags,” like when Coach Boomer sets up the Science teacher (Kevin McDonald, another Kids in the Hall alum) with an evil twin for a double date.
I was also impressed by the costume design in Sky High. Subtle choices really pop for the characters on screen, like the fact that the Stronghold family only wears red, white and blue; the girl with the power to control plant life is always in something floral; etc. It’s all small detail stuff, and might sound a little corny spelled out like this, but I really appreciated it as a fun touch in the movie.
The soundtrack of Sky High consists mainly of ‘80s tunes, which does double duty in that it pays homage to John Hughes’ famous high school movies while simultaneously preventing the movie from dating itself, much like the ‘80s tunes and clothes did for Napoleon Dynamite. It’s a smart move that gives the film a kind of timeless quality.
The movie isn’t all super, though. There are a few, let’s call them “Kryptonite” moments, along the way where Sky High dips a bit in its soaring. In the third quarter of the movie, the story manages to get away from the whole “superhero” angle and lapses into becoming a poor imitation of a routine John Hughes high school relationship story. At the end, though, the movie regains its super powers for a mighty conclusion that, although is highly predictable, nevertheless is surprisingly satisfying.
I suppose you could fault the film for failing to produce an interesting villain--or at least one that doesn’t look like something left over from a Power Rangers episode--but ultimately it didn’t bug me too much. This isn’t Tim Burton’s Batman, where the villains get top billing and development over the hero; Sky High is about the heroes and this is their story which only necessitates a villain to serve as catalyst for the last part of the film. The villain’s toadying jester sidekick, however, is completely unnecessary. His rather annoying presence already ceases being funny the second time he shows up.
I also didn’t understand why the school’s “gym class” equivalent actually encouraged some kids to be villains. I mean, I understand its place in the story, but it just didn’t ring true to the whole of the idea of Sky High.
All in all, Sky High is a great movie to cap off the summer with. It’s highly appropriate for families with just unrealistic comic book violence and only one “bathroom joke”--which, thanks to phenomenal delivery by Kevin McDonald, is actually funny. But Sky High is so fun and entertaining that it’s not just good for families; I can see teenagers and adults without children really having a good time with it as well. Anyone with an interest in superheroes shouldn’t pass it up just because it has the look of a Disney Channel “tween” feature; like the nerdy kid who turns out to have the ability to turn into a giant, hulking rock creature, Sky High’s outward appearance can be deceiving.
If you can’t catch Sky High before it leaves theaters, it’s definitely a super idea for a rental.