Sky High (review)

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These Kids Today…

Gee, when I was a kid, a kid knew his or her place in the movies. The dorks and the nerds and the dweebs and the losers stayed dorks and nerds and dweebs and losers. A movie about dorks and nerds and dweebs and losers was about them coming to terms, as individuals, with their dorkiness, their nerdiness, their dweebiness, their loserness, not banding together to save the world while simultaneously proving to the popular kids that they, too — the dorks and the nerds and the dweebs and the losers — were cool.
If The Breakfast Club were, god forbid, remade today, Ally Sheedy would end up running for class president, and winning. If Ferris Bueller’s Day Off were, heaven forfend, remade today, Alan Ruck would end up saving Chicago from nuclear terrorists.

But ya gotta love the dorks, etc., of Sky High, even if they do end up vindicated and popular and beloved in a way that a Generation Xer like me should resent, because they’re funny and so gosh-darned nice that you just want to hug them. Such good kids…

And yes, Sky High is pretty much what it looks like: sugar-coated X-Men, with little Harry Potter and Incredibles prizes in the box. There’s nary an original bone in its cinematic body… and it is movie-licious nevertheless: very clever and visually hilarious, it’s a simple, charming delight.

Teenage mortification never goes out of style, and there’s a very public brand of it in store for Will Stronghold (sweet-faced Michael Angarano: Lords of Dogtown, Seabiscuit), the son of superhero duo The Commander (Kurt Russell: Miracle, Dark Blue) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston: Eulogy, The Cat in the Hat). He’s on his way to his first day at Sky High — the school for the children of superheroes that actually does float around high in the atmosphere, where it can stay hidden and on the move from supervillains — and he hasn’t gotten his powers yet. Waiting for your powers is like waiting for your first period — not that Will would relate to that, but still — except everybody knows if you have gotten yours yet, because the first thing that happens to freshmen at Sky High is that the Sorting Hat tells them whether they’ll be in Gryffindor or Slytherin or– er, I mean, Coach Boomer (Bruce Campbell: Alien Apocalypse, Spider-Man 2) evaluates your powers and decides whether you end up on the school’s Hero track or, for shame, on the Sidekick track.

You don’t need to be told what happens next: power-bereft Will ends up on the Sidekick track, where he makes new friends and forms a gang that will eventually save the world… and themselves, from uncoolness. And that’s all fine and pleasant and nice, but I found myself much more tickled by the film’s cheek, which tweaks conventions of comic-book-y flicks with just the right combination of geeky love and a gently chiding self-awareness of how silly the whole shebang is. All at once, Sky High celebrates the superhero movie, refuses to take it too seriously, and introduces a new generation of kids to the genre in such a way that they’ll have a fresh basis for renewing it in the future — this weekend, some little kid will become so enamored of superheroes because he’ll see this flick at just the right impressionable age that, thirty years from now, he’ll re-reinvent the superhero movie again.

Of course, I got the biggest kick out of the bones thrown to the grownup audience: Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman) as Sky High’s principal; Kids in the Hall Dave Foley (Monkeybone, Toy Story 2) and Kevin McDonald (Lilo & Stitch, Galaxy Quest) as Sky High teachers, who have a snarky, cynical sense of humor that speaks directly to us Xers; and, as always, the geek god Bruce Campbell, who is in fine form here.

And can I help it if I can’t look at Kurt Russell and — in spite of his escaping from New York and fighting the thing in Antarctica — think of nothing but the computer who wore tennis shoes? Movies you see as a little kid stick with you your whole life…

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