Sky High

(Mike Mitchell, USA, 2005)


At least since the 1950s, horror movies have been using the extravagant bodily transformations brought on by vampires, werewolves, zombies and the like as a handy metaphor (both comic and melodramatic) for the changes wrought in teenagers by puberty.

Sky High ingeniously shifts this metaphor from horror to the superhero genre. Will (Michael Angarano) is the son of superheroes Steve (Kurt Russell), aka The Commander, and Josie (Kelly Preston), aka Jetstream. It is time for Will to go to that secret place in the sky – a school to train teens with budding super powers. Alas, Will cannot admit to his parents that his special abilities, whatever they might be, have not yet kicked in.

Once at Sky High, the situation gets much worse. Will and his best gal pal, the doting Layla (Danielle Panabaker), are brutally shunted into the lower-class of Sidekicks – those who are doomed to play eternal second-fiddle to designated Heroes. And the vampish Gwen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) seems to have more on her mind than simply nabbing Will as a boyfriend.

Sky High is a modest, fast-paced delight from start to finish. The performances are high-energy and the jokes tumble out quickly enough that you can forgive the weaker laughs. The plot is admirably constructed, full of surprises. And the digital special effects, although hardly state-of-the-art, manage to create a commendably cartoonish style under director Mike Mitchell's guidance.

The film has been dismissed as an attempt to cash in on the success of The Incredibles (2004), but that is selling it short. In fact, it owes much more to the smart, offbeat D.E.B.S. (2004), directed by Angela Robinson before she was snapped up for Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005).

Like D.E.B.S. (which is about a special school for training secret government agents), Sky High brings a political savvy to its comedy of teenage and family life. Many gags refer to the system of oppression inherent in the institutional structure of Sky High: the exclusion of Sidekicks, and particularly of women.

Of course, all such issues find suitably light-entertainment resolutions in the course of the narrative. But that doesn't mean we should underrate the consciousness-raising buzz that a film like Sky High can give its target audiences.

© Adrian Martin September 2005

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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