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Sky High
Reviewed by Gary Mitchel, © 2005

Format: Movie
By:   Mike Mitchell (director)
Genre:   Teen Superhero Action-Drama
Released:   July 29, 2005
Review Date:   August 04, 2005
Audience Rating:   Rated PG
RevSF Rating:   7/10 (What Is This?)

You want to be the heroes or the villains? — Coach Boomer

Teens have it rough. Their bodies are changing, they’re trying to figure out their place in the world, who they are, discovering first love, undergoing peer pressure, and as The Fresh Prince reminds us through music, parents just don’t understand.

Put superpowers in the mix, and you have one really stressed out teen. Especially when his parents are two of the most powerful and popular superheroes on the planet. That’s the quandary for young Will Stronghold (Michael “Almost Famous” Anagarano), son of Steve and Josie Stronghold, mild-mannered retailers, aka The Commander (Kurt “The name’s Plissken” Russel) and Jetstream (Kelly “Don’t hold Battlefield Earth against me” Preston).

Sky High opens with a great overview of this superhero world, narrated by Will and visualized with comic panels. This lets us know the tone of the movie, which is a bit of a cross between the '60s Batman and Spider-Man — slightly campy, with light teen angst. It was originally conceived years ago as a Disney Channel show but never produced, and it still has that feel.

Will has a lot to angst over. On top of everything else, he's about to start his freshman year at Sky High, the school for teen superheroes. Most parents want their kids to do well in school, but Will is also expected to become a superhero himself. The only problem is that Will has not yet developed his powers. He’s too embarrassed to tell dad, who is looking forward to the family being a superteam, the most powerful family in the world.

Once at the school, Will and his friends Layla (Danielle “Empire Falls” Panabaker) and Zach (Nicholas Braun) befriend other freshmen Ethan (Dee Jay Daniels) and Magenta (Kelly Vitz) as they are taken to the gym where they are divided into heroes and “hero support”, aka sidekicks. They and their powers are judged and categorized by Coach Boomer (Bruce “this is my boom stick” Campbell).

It’s here where the movie sets up the usual high-school clash, the popular heroes vs. the nerdy sidekicks. Powerless Will is assigned sidekick status, along with his friends. Ethan can melt, Magenta can change into a guinea pig, and Zach glows about as bright as a glowstick. Layla has real powers, control over plants, but refuses to cooperate with the caste system so she’s assigned to the sidekicks as well.

Once divided up, the teens start their hero support classes under former sidekick All-American Boy (Dave “Kids in the Hall” Foley), who now just goes by Mr. Boy. We also meet mad science teacher Mr. Medulla (Kevin “Another Kid in the Hall" McDonald), and Principal Powers (Lynda “Wonder Woman” Carter).

The main thorns in their side are Penny (single-named twins Malika and Khadijah) a duplicating cheerleader; Speed (Will Harris), one guess at what he does; and Lash (Jake Sandvig), who stretches. They are lead by class president Gwen (Mary Elizabeth “Wolf Lake” Winston), a technopath. Will, of course, falls head over heels in love with Gwen, who doesn’t seem mean like the others.

Another problem is Warren Peace (Steven Strait), an angry young rebel whose mom is a hero and dad is a villain. A villain that Will’s dad put in prison with a multiple-life sentence. So Warren, who has flame powers, has a serious beef with Will. But you know there’s a decent kid under that hard, anti-social shell, and Warren has the most depth in the movie. He's the John Bender of Sky High . (And if you don’t know who that is, you’re under 30. Go to IMDB, young one.)

The movie doesn’t stray too far from the standard high school conflicts (the underdogs vs. the cool kids), with superhero fun layered on top (instead of dodge ball, they play “Save the Citizen”.) Then Will’s powers finally kick in and he is transferred to hero class. Then it’s the “learning who your real friends are” lesson.

While all this is going on, an old enemy of The Commander and Jetstream has returned and is plotting revenge and the other heroes at Sky High. This leads to the school dance, where the climax happens in all teen movies, except this one involves massive property damage.

Sky High is a Disney flick, enjoyable, cheesy and light. Any movie with the man-god of the chin, Bruce Campbell, is going to have at least a few fun scenes. The same goes for Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald. Sky High has all three, and the still-sexy Mrs. Carter. It's campy but it has a good sense of fun.

The down sides: The movie pretty much follows all the standard tropes of a family Disney film and a teen romantic drama, just a little cornball with the standard teen genre plot beats. It borrows heavily from all the obvious sources, from the Harry Potter books to X-Men to The Incredibles. The visual effects would have been great — 10 years ago. It also threw me a bit that most of the films songs are covers of old '80s teen-drama tunes, but the teen target audience might not notice.

If you can tolerate the teen angst (or if you like that kind of thing), you’ll enjoy this movie.  If you are a hard-core comic geek, you’ll either find it enjoyable but a bit silly or be irritated at the campiness. But after all the broody, serious and dark superhero films lately, it’s nice to have some, like this one and Fantastic Four, that remember comics can be fun as well.


Gary "Sneezy the Squid" Mitchel will stop the world and melt with you. Does that make him a sidekick or a particularly weird villain?

 
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