This post is published as part of Realweegiemidget Reviews and Return To The 80s‘ Kurt Russell Blogathon.
“Sky High” was released in 2005, when the superhero movie boom was beginning to look like a flash in the pan. The output hard turned mediocre (“The Fantastic Four”, “Constantine”*) to poor (“Elektra”, “Son Of The Mask”). “Batman Begins” would signal the coming of a brighter, albeit darker and more grounded future, and “Iron Man” was still three years away from redefining the entire genre. From the perspective of today, “Sky High” was way ahead of its time and its hardly a surprise that talk of a sequel continues to bubble up every so often, most recently towards the end of 2016.
Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) is the son of Steve (Kurt Russell) and Josie Stronghold (Kelly Preston), aka the world’s premiere Superheroes: The Commander and Jetstream. Together with his best friend Layla (Danielle Panabaker), Will is starting high school, specifically “Sky High”, a secret high tech high school training facility for superheroes. But Will has a secret: his powers haven’t manifested yet and, even worse, one of his Dad’s arch nemeses is intent on taking his revenge.
It may not be particularly coy about being a superhero spin on Hogwarts, but there’s an undeniable fun tone that makes this a joy to watch. It’s saved from feeling like just another Disney Original Movie by its impressively stellar cast. With up-and-coming young stars in Michael Angarano, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Danielle Panabaker, the real treat is in the filling out of Sky High’s staff and faculty. “Kids In The Hall” alums Kevin McDonald and Dave Foley head up the Mad Science and ‘Hero Support’ (read PC terminology for sidekicks) Cloris Leahman is the x-ray vision powered School Nurse and Bruce Campbell is a super-loud PE teacher. There’s also room for a delicious cameo for Lynda Carter as Principal Powers who gets a wicked throwaway line referring to her most famous superhero role.
Riffing on many of the same themes as the previous year’s “The Incredibles”, this is a sunnier, less litigiously dystopian view of a world of super-powered folk. It doesn’t spend a huge amount of time in explaining its world or many of the tropes and conventions it gently spoofs because it assumes the audience will be familiar with much of it. But this is meant to be a Kurt Russell blogathon review, so why have I chosen a movie where he’s barely in it. Simple: Kurt Russell is the reason “Sky High” works as well as it does.
Although he’s a supporting player, Russell’s presence permeates the film and he brings a real twinkle-in-the-eye gravitas to both the role of Will’s father and the square-jawed old-fashioned patriotism of the Commander. He even makes the underwhelming costume look good. Having him as The Commander sells the entire concept of the world. He’s easy to accept as a superhero and his legacy of badassed coolness, curated from dozens of his previous movies, lends the whole setup a credibility from which it can build out its fun, colourful world. In any other hands, the film wouldn’t feel as solid and cohesive. “Zoom”, the similarly themed movie starring Tim Allen which came out the following year, doesn’t work nearly as well because Allen doesn’t have the laid-back charisma and tough guy charm that Kurt brings.
“Sky High” delivers a winning blend of high school comedy, coming of age teen drama and super-heroics, pulling together a plot which doesn’t shortchange any of the three genres. On its own it’s a good movie, but adding Kurt makes it great.