Skyfire (2020) Review
SKYFIRE, the latest Chinese big-budget blockbuster to attempt to break out to mainstream Western success seems, initially, to have a lot going for it: a hybrid of JURASSIC WORLD and DANTE’S PEAK (with an opening scene lifted almost frame by frame from the 1996 Pierce Brosnan action-disaster movie), it has the right idea but it’s let down by sloppy screenwriting and wildly variable special effects that fail to provide a figleaf for plot holes big enough to have been caused by pyroclastic boulders.
It may seem like asking for trouble, or at least breath-taking hubris, to build your resort right next to a volcano and place your main attraction right inside the thing, but that’s just what antipodean entrepreneur Jack Harris has done. His new hotel and volcano theme park is gearing up for launch and looking to impress and attract investors. Who could have predicted that the volcano would choose that very moment to erupt in cataclysmic fashion? Certainly not Meng Li (Hannah Quinlivan), renowned vulcanologist whose mother was killed by an eruption of that very same mountain.
At first you’d be forgiven for assuming Jason Isaacs, playing token Caucasian Jack Harris, who pulls up in a Bentley, gives a short speech with an Australian accent then presumably picked up his cheque and said “谢谢，再见!” but he’s in the movie for the long haul. Or at least the moderate haul with absurdly abrupt terminus. He’s one of only a handful of extraneous characters the film spends any time at all on because SKYFIRE is in an unseemly hurry to get to the actual eruption and bypasses much of the cinematic conventions of disaster movies so we don’t get to know a lot of the surrounding characters and their backstories as we would normally do.
The infrastructure of the hotel and its attraction seems to have been built with zero forethought for what would happen in the event of an eruption, too, so when the inevitable happens, it happens quickly. Or, sometimes, slowly. There’s a real disconnect between what’s being green-screened into the background and how the principle cast act and react to it. Sometimes it’s hard to tell when things are in slow motion for effect or if the extras are just a little too lackadaisical in their attitude to the impending peril.
Of course no disaster movie is complete without a conveyor belt of cannon fodder to offer up to the disaster and so it is with SKYFIRE where the team of vulcanologists have been assembled based on the approach that a distinctive haircut works as a short cut for an identifiable personality. The headshots of the cast must have looked like the back wall of an old school barber shop.
SKYFIRE is a trim ninety-seven minutes long but manages to feel much longer thanks to the repetitive action and the crushing disappointment that the film declines the obvious opportunity to provide an actual game of The Floor Is Lava to liven things up. It’s off the mark but not by much and with a less sloppy approach to its own continuity, there’s the possibility that the proposed second and third parts of this “Ring Of Fire” trilogy might yet burn brightly instead of flaming out.