Thursday, October 06, 2005

Movie Review - Sky High

(image curtesy of Disney Pictures)

My mother used to tell me that they only way to stop me from crying when I was a baby was to put me in front of the old black and white television and turn it to whatever show they were showing at the time. Growing up, watching TV was a big part of my daily life and I remember watching old shows like “Space: 1999”, “Battlestar Galactica” and the original “Mickey Mouse Club”. The MMC features that they used to show was either one of 2 types. One was the live action animals with voice over show that I absolutely adored as a child and the other type was the normal stories of American teens growing up. One in particular that I remember fondly to this day was “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes” starring a young Kurt Russell. The nerdy geeky side of me wanted to be like his character and have a whole computer downloaded into my head in a freak accident and end up being a super genius. Watching “Sky High” at the local cinema last weekend brought back the feelings and memories of watching those old MMC features again.

“Sky High” tells the story of Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) who is the son of the greatest superheroes in the world, The Commander (Kurt Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston), as he starts his first day at the titular high school. This elite high school, set high up in the clouds and reachable by a flying school bus, is the training ground for the offspring of the many super powered individuals that populate the world of “Sky High”. An amalgamation of Hogwarts and Xavier’s Institute for the Gifted, “Sky High” operates on a class system where the student body is divided into either the “Heroes”, those with flashy super powers, or the “Hero Support” aka sidekicks for those who have less than stellar talents. Being the rare product of two super powered parents, Will was expected to easily get into the “Heroes” track.

Instead of the Sorting Hat, the students at “Sky High” had the sonic boom powered Coach Boomer (Bruce Campbell) to determine which track they will go to. It was during the trials that they found out that Will Stronghold, long thought as the next big thing in their superhero world, had not actually developed any superpowers during the past summer and was regulated to the “Sidekick” track faster than a speeding bullet. He was joined in “Hero Support” track by an assorted group of archetypal misfits easily found in your typical John Hughes teen movie including the flora controlling Layla (Danielle Panabaker) who was Will’s best friend since grade school and harbored a secret crush on him.

Life in the “Sidekick” track was difficult for Will and his group of friends. Not only does he had to deal with the taunts of the “Heroes” at school, he also had to tell his father about his lack of superpowers. In a scene not unlike Iceman’s “coming out” scene in X2, Will finally tells his father who was quite disappointed by the lack of development to the point that he briefly considered dumping his son into a vat of radioactive waste to jumpstart his powers in a funny scene with Will’s mother a little later. Things would later change when Will’s super strength finally manifested in a cafeteria battle against the pyrokinetic Warren Peace (Steven Strait) who held a grudge against him as Will’s father was responsible for his father, a super villain, being incarcerated and away from the family. Things immediately changed for Will after the cafeteria incident as he gets bumped up to the “Hero” track and becomes the object of desire of the school’s IT girl, Gwen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who happens to be the school resident techopath.

What follows could be classified as formulaic of teen dramas where the main character suddenly finds fame and began to believe the hype around himself to the point of alienating his true friends. The only difference is that in “Sky High” some of the teens have super powers to make life just a little more complicated than your average teenager. Added to the mix was a super villain working in the background seeking revenge at Will’s parents for defeating him in their last encounter. To say more about what happens next would spoil the ending but suffice to say that in the end Will and his “Sidekick” friends come back to save the day in a feel good ending that ties up all storylines.

I have to say that I thought that it was a bit of casting genius to cast Michael Angarano as Will Stronghold. Not only does he bears a striking resemblance to a young Kurt Russell but he imbues that character with awkwardness and confidence that the character needed. In a movie where the teens command most of the screen time, these young actors led the movie with much more presence than most teen actors much more well known. As for the older actors, Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston’s portrayal of Will’s parents was just on the right level of being over the top to be enjoyable to watch. Honorable mention also should be given to Dave Foley whose portrayal of Mr. Boy, The Commander’s old sidekick and the current teacher for the “Hero Support” track, wonderfully reminds the audience why he continue to be one of the funnier comedians in the business.

One particular flaw of this movie was the seemingly low production value of the CGI special effects compared to the recent movies. However, it actually fits into the simplistic atmosphere that this film has going for it. Instead of dazzling the audience with slick special effects shots, they decided to keep it simple which fortunately for them worked in this case.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Lynda Carter (TV’s “Wonder Woman”) cameo as “Principle Powers” in this movie. Her line saying “I'm not Wonder Woman, you know” was one of the comic fanboy’s moment in the movie. The exciting feeling I got when hearing her say that was not unlike the one I felt when I first heard Johnny Storm shout “Flame On!” in the “Fantastic Four” movie. I wished that they would have her twirl like she did on her old TV show when she transforms into a comet in “Sky High” but I guess that would be too obvious. The film was a good enough afternoon distraction and easy to recommend as it is.

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