After The Incredibles, TVs Smallville, and the teenage-Dark Knight sequences in Batman Begins, do we really need another superhero puberty saga? If Disneys new kiddie adventure Sky High is any indication, the answer is yes sort of. Bogged down by uneven acting and cheap production design, but buoyed by a witty script, its the rare action-comedy that actually gets better as it goes along. Its just-passable preteen escapism.
What begins as routine wish-fulfillment grows into something slightly more interesting: a John Hughes-style teen soap opera that just happens to take place at a high school for the children of superheroes. Its what Pretty in Pink might have been like if Molly Ringwald could fly and Jon Cryer was a shapeshifter. The sound track even plays up the similarities to 80s high school classics, featuring updated renditions of tunes by Tears for Fears and the Smiths; most of these new versions suck, but its a noble sentiment nonetheless.
The film opens on the first day of superhero high school, where geeky Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) struggles to live up to the expectations set by his legendary parents, The Commander (an energetic Kurt Russell) and Jetstream (a bland Kelly Preston). At the airborne campus known as Sky High, kids are weeded out in their freshman year by Coach Boomer (cult icon Bruce Campbell) as either heroes or sidekicks, labels that stick with them for the rest of their lives. Problem is, Will is a late bloomer, and is first lumped in with the misfits; when his superpowers finally develop, hes inducted into the popular clique. But will he forsake his old friends for his new ones? Will he choose his new flame (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) over his childhood crush (promising newcomer Danielle Panabaker)? Although it doesnt offer the raging-hormone in-jokes that last years Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban did no visual allusions to monkey-spanking here Sky High isnt completely lacking in subtext. When Will visits the batty school nurse (Cloris Leachman, in an inspired cameo) for a lecture on superhero heredity, she uses lollipops and tongue depressors as a bizarre visual aid. Early on in the film, when Will is forced to come out as a powerless mortal to his dad, the comic irony isnt lost on Russell or director Mike Mitchell. Sky Highs action scenes look like something out of an old Godzilla movie (intentionally, one hopes) and many of its jokes wont make anyone over the age of 6 laugh. Its no Incredibles, but compared to the lame Fantastic Four, itll do.
Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].