Sky High Review
When I was a lad, Kurt Russell was the new Clint Eastwood. He was lean, mean and grizzled and he and John Carpenter made beautiful music together. Now he plays dads. Granted, the dad he plays in Sky High is the most powerful superhero in the world, so it’s not all bad news.
Will Stronghold (Angarano) is the son of Steve and Josie Stronghold (Russell and Preston) aka The Commander and Jetstream, the world’s greatest superhero couple. Will is about to enroll at Sky High, the school where superheroes are trained, his only problem being that he doesn’t have any abilities yet. Great things are expected of him, especially from his father, but when he gets placed in a class for sidekicks instead of heroes, he begins to fear that he’ll never gain any powers. But when he does finally display his amazing strength, he’s transferred to the hero class and has to leave behind all his buddies from “hero support”, including – now that he has his eyes on the lovely Gwen (Winstead) – his lifelong friend Layla (Panabaker). But for every superhero, there’s a supervillain, and someone is out for revenge.
Sky High’s influences are legion – a smidgen of the kids-with-powers from X-Men, a soupcon of the family dynamics of The Incredibles and a large dollop of Harry Potter that covers just about everything else – but there’s enough spark and fresh ideas that it at no time feels like a rip-off. All the usual high school elements are in place – good teachers, bad teachers, bullies, cliques – but now there’s the added complication that you’re sharing a dining hall with one of your nemesises……nemesi…….arch enemies.
Although aimed squarely at the under twelves, there’s a tremendous amount to enjoy in Sky High and there’s simply no hiding its smarts. Its take on high school politics and conformity is effective without being preachy and the coming out subtext of Will being ashamed to admit to his father that he’s a sidekick is deftly handled. The special effects are a little on the cartoony side, and it’s clear the budget wasn’t mega, but they’re in no way deficient even if we may have come to expect better in this day and age. Along the way there are some decent chuckles to be had, mostly of the slyly underplayed variety, while there’s also some fun slapstick for the wee ones.
The all too rare sighting of Bruce Campbell is probably worth the admission on its own, but Russell’s comic performance is one of the best things in the film, his earnestness never spilling over into camp, and he more than makes up for the blandness of Preston. The youngsters are all fine, with Angarano in particular making Will a goofily endearing character. You’ll see the twist and where the arch villain plot is going a mile off, and it was always going to be headed for a big action finale where Will has to save the day, but it’s an adventure movie for kids, not The Usual Suspects and, as such, comes highly recommended.
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