Sky High

It would be easy to read a description of Sky High and write the movie off as derivative. A family of superheroes-too much like The Incredibles. A High School where specially talented kids learn to control and use their skills-think Harry Potter or even the X-Men. On the surface, there isn’t much of promise here. I suspect that even Disney, the distributor, didn’t have much faith in it. Here we are in the waning days of July, almost August, almost the time of year when studios traditionally take out their garbage. All the sure bets, the Spielberg blockbusters, the SF and superhero tentpole projects and sequels are released and have either floated or sank in the commercial shark tank. I think Disney looked at Sky High and saw a nice family comedy that might make its modest budget back, not worth an early summer release but not a complete dog either. 

The jury’s still out on the movie’s numbers but the reviews, especially in the fanboy press, have been surprisingly good. Let’s face it, any film that stars Kurt Russell and-God help us-has Bruce Campbell playing a gym teacher is bound to attract geeky attention. Add in giant robots and Lynda Carter as the principal and you’ve got a must check it out film. The buzz for this film has been slowly building and as it has the studio support has increased.

Will Stronghold, played by Michael Angarano, is the son of the world’s greatest superheroes, the Commander (Kurt Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston). Will is about to enter the superhero high school-Sky High. It is suspended miles in the air by anti gravity and it requires a flying jet powered school bus to get there. Unfortunately, Will’s powers (It’s expected that he’ll either fly like his mother or have super strength like his father) haven’t manifested themselves yet, and he’s beginning to wonder if they ever will. If they don’t, he’ll be consigned to hero support status, in other words, he’ll be a sidekick. Sidekicks have it rough at Sky High; they get picked on; they get beat up. You do not want to be given a swirlee by a superhero.

Will does wind up with the sidekicks at first, but when his powers suddenly manifest themselves, he’s put onto the hero track, where he’s forced to run with a new crowd. Anyone who’s seen a John Hughes movie knows what happens next. In an effort to fit in, he offends his old friends, including Layla (Danielle Panabaker) the cute girl next door, who can manipulate plants and has a crush onWill. He spends the rest of the movie trying to decide what kind of person he wants to be. In this case there’s also an evil plot that he foils with, of course, the help of the sidekicks.

I know it sounds tired but somehow it all works. Michael Anagarano is the kind of sympathetic every kid you can believe in and he does a good job. Kurt Russell is not expanding his range by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s great here just flirting with campiness. And that’s the main strength of this movie. Some outrageous stuff happens but nobody winks at the camera, drawing you out of the narrative. It’s all played straight, even the most absurd situations.

Another great thing is the throwaways. From the villains struggling with the assembly instructions of a baby car seat (Sorry, you’ll have to see the movie for an explanation) to Lynda Carter walking out of the detention room, muttering, “I’m not Wonder Woman, you know,” you can tell this was written by a fellow geek.

What it all adds up to is possibly a minor geek classic in the mold of The Goonies or Buckaroo Banzai in spite of the fact that there isn’t an original trope in this thing. It is, however, put together in a clever and entertaining way.

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