Movie Review: Sky High
Until then, though let's close out November with a review of one of my favorite teen movies of all time, and one of my top 5 favorite movies of 2005.
Starring: Michael Angarano, Danielle Panabaker, Kurt Russell, Kelly Preston, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
Plot Summary: It all begins at a secret school in the clouds like none on earth: Sky High, the first and only high school for kids with super-human powers going through crime-fighting puberty. At Sky High, the student body throw flames with their footballs, study Villainy with their Chemistry and are divided into Heroes and Sidekicks instead of jocks and geeks. It's an out-of-this-world yet completely recognizable place where cool gadgetry, rampant bravery and awe-inspiring magical skills mix it up with parental battles, peer pressure and dating trouble--with explosively fun results. This year's class features some of the best, brightest and most powerfully gifted super-teens ever assembled. And then there's Will Stronghold. When you're the son of the world's most legendary super heroes, The Commander and Jetstream, people expect you to live up to the family name The problem is that Will is starting with no superpowers of his own and, worst of all, instead of joining the ranks of the Hero class, he finds himself relegated to being a Sidekick. Now he must somehow survive his freshman year while dealing with an overbearing gym coach, a bully with super speed and a dangerous rebel with a grudge (and the ability to shoot fire from his hands)--not to mention the usual angst, parental expectations and girl problems that accompany teenage life. But when an evil villain threatens his family, friends and the very sanctity of Sky High, Will must use his newfound superpowers to save the day and prove himself a Hero worthy of the family tradition. [attribution to IMDB as always. What a terribly written plot outline.]
Greg's Review/Comments: Sky High is an extremely entertaining teen movie that harkens back to the classic 80's teen movies, while not being merely a pale imitation of the same. In fact, I would stack this movie up against any of those 80's movies that this one has been accused of ripping off. The teen relationships in the movie are very realistic, which makes them interesting to watch. Plus it captures the fear and excitement of entering high school really well! Really, the fear and excitement of undertaking any new project which you feel you may be slightly inadequate for. In addition, the comedy in this movie, while not laugh-out-loud funny, does add to the movie. Particularly of note are the comedic performances of Kids In The Hall alums Dave Foley and Kevin MacDonald. That being said, if you are just going into this movie hoping for sidesplitting comedy, you will be disappointed. Like the best movies of this type, it lightly touches on the comedy, and quickly lets it pass by, to draw laughs but also to lighten the mood of the movie. It doesn't dwell on the comedy to the detriment of developing the characters' relationships, and those relationships are what are definitely at the heart of the movie.
The superhero aspect of the film is what, of course, brings it that extra level of entertainment, above and beyond your typical teen film. Not only do you get very entertaining teen drama with real teen relationships, but you get exciting superhero action as well! I went into this film with extremely low expectations for the superhero action, but it was actually a pretty entertaining aspect of the film. The superhero action scenes are not intense, at all, but they do feature acceptable special effects and very entertaining action, and are well-paced. They additionally are lighly dotted with humor at appropriate moments, and all in all they have just a really fun feeling to them. The movie ends, in particular, with a long and very entertaining action sequence where Will & his friends take on a team of super villians. Although, once again, it should go without saying that you should not see this movie if you are only interested in seeing exciting and intense superhero action.
OK, so if it's not the comedy and it's not the superhero action, what does make this move? The movie has a whole stable of memorable characters plus excellent performances all around, particularly from the female leads, and plus just the inherently entertaining nature of the teen movie formula. All of the characters are basically just your one-dimensional high school movie stereotypes, but they have super powers! That always makes things more entertaining. OK most of the characters end up in a different place, and with a different personality than when they started, but I think most people could predict how this movie will end approximately 1/2 way through the movie. My mom did, and she is horrible at predicting these things. But yet, several of the characters, particularly the supporting characters, have a kind of unique and original edge to them that elevates them above the genre. Plus the main characters of Will and Layla do have a nice depth to them, and really make you root for them. Yay Will and Layla, boo Gwen!
OK in any movie or TV show with a Panabaker, I of course will have to effusively praise their performance. It's one of the primary laws of the Teen Cultural Revolution. I can't pretend to be objective about a performance from a Panabaker sister. In this case, I will say that I didn't have any clue who Danielle OR Kay Panabaker were when I first saw this movie, and it was only through this movie that I became a fan of Danielle. Needless to say, Danielle's performance in this movie was terrific. She conveys the unrequited love of the character extremely well, and her friendship with Will is touching and fun to watch. Plus she manages to be nearly as naturally charming and loveable as Kay Panabaker. She is an ideal lead for these types of films, and although she is very good at dramatic work as well, I hope she doesn't convert her career entirely over to dramas. The one who really surprised me, though, is Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Gwen. I had seen her before in Final Destination 3, and she was not good in that movie. In fact, I might even say that she was bad. But she's really great in this film. She conveys the popular girl really well, slowly revealing how heartless she really is, while gradually converting over from untouchable perfect woman to the evil, evil woman we all know she really is. A lot of actresses in similar roles, I've noticed, can screw this up one way or the other. That is, act so loveable that we feel compelled to like the character even after her dark, heartless side has come out, or let the dark, heartless side come out too early, so that we don't believe that the main character would really be in love with them (actually, this was a big problem I had with Danielle's performance in Read It And Weep). Yet, Mary perfectly strikes a balance between the two. Plus she's hot. Kurt Russell delivers an oustanding performance as well, as he always does. He's made a lot of poor movie choices, but surely this is one of the most underrated actors of his generation. Show me another actor who can do kickass action movies like Escape From New York and The Thing, subtle dramatic work like Miracle, and lighthearted comedic work like this movie so well, and so effortlessly. There are others out there but they are generally, unlike Kurt, acknowledged as great actors. Michael Angarano and Kelly Preston give adequate performances, but don't really seem to jump off the screen. In addition to the KITH alums cited above, Bruce Campbell also gives a memorable and very funny turn as a professor at Sky High.
And They All Learned a Valuable Lesson: Cliques are bad! Judge people for who they are on the inside! Yes, this is the message to EVERY TEEN MOVIE EVER. But this movie pulls it off better than most, and when Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston acknowledge that the sidekicks are real heroes, it's a great scene.
Final Rating: 9/10. Highly recommended to watch. There are only 3 movies of 2005 that I can definitely say that I would definitely rank above this one on my list of favorite movies of the year (those being Junebug, Brokeback Mountain, and Just Like Heaven). Thus this movie ranks in my top 10 of 2005 for sure, if not the top 5.