Based on the trailers alone, one could make the assumption that Sky High was going to be awful. It looked cheesy, cheap, and aimed strictly at audience members still sitting at the “kiddie” table at family gatherings. What a surprise, then, when Sky High winds up being charming, funny, and relatively smart, all while both laughing at, and paying homage to, other superhero movies, as well as the Harry Potter series. How many movies aimed at children will include a character named “Warren Peace” (sound it out)?
The film begins with a prologue narrated by our lead character, Will Stronghold (Michael Angrano), which tells us about how superheroes exist, are out in the open, and save the world on a daily basis. Will’s parents, Steve and Josie (Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston), are the two most famous superheroes on the planet, apparently. Will is just about to begin high school, which, for children whose parents are superheroes, involves going to a floating school in the sky, aptly named “Sky High.” It’s a school designed to allow heroes and sidekicks — there’s a “sorting hat” scene in which the children are divided up based on their powers, or lack thereof — to harness their special skills and use them for good.
There are a bunch of colorful characters also attending this school, which allows for our lead to go through the typical tropes that most movies about high school need to have. Lesson are learned, friendships are destroyed or saved, and characters need to mature. This will all feel very familiar if you’ve ever seen a movie set in a high school.
What switches it up is the addition of superpowers, which keeps things fresh, just like magic did the same thing for Harry Potter. With the addition of something supernatural, these old tropes don’t feel quite so worn-out. When the film can throw in a random fight between a man who can shoot fireballs out of his hands and another with immeasurable strength — and have it mean something in terms of the overall plot — it’s a lot easier to keep an audience from falling asleep.
Add in the inclusion of many in-jokes and references that are featured solely for the older crowd, and a script that functions as both a slight deconstruction and a loving homage to superheros, and you’ve got quite the fun experience. The trailers have undersold this film, folks; it is a whole lot of fun. That it manages to be this way for all audience, young or old, is incredibly impressive. This is a movie that families can watch together, kids can watch alone, or parents can enjoy by themselves. All of those scenarios will result in a good time.
There are a bunch of in-jokes, references, and so on that will make a lot of people laugh, even if they’ll go over the head of others. If you don’t know who Wonder Woman is, or who played her on television in the ’70s, you’ll miss one of the funnier lines in the film. That’s something that the children are probably not going to be aware of, unless their parents are huge fans of superheroes and have exposed them to all sorts of them over the years. The parents who grew up in the ’60s or ’70s, however, will appreciate this nod, as well as many others.
All throughout Sky High, evil is lurking. We see this after we cut to a villain (voice of Patrick Warburton), cloaked in shadow, looking at a screen, waiting to unleash a plan whose motivation I won’t reveal for fear of spoilers. Considering we never see the villain’s face during these moments, one will assume that it will be a character we already know. It’s shocking enough when the reveal happens for adults, and I can only imagine how it will be for any children watching. This movie contains a pretty decent twist.
It also has a very talented young, and old, cast. The lead is Michael Angrano, and makes for a very enthusiastic protagonist. In supporting roles, there’s Danielle Panabaker as Layla, the best friend of our lead, who also happens to be a hippie; Steven Strait is the aforementioned Warren Peace, someone who hates Will because of an earlier conflict between their fathers; and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Gwen Grayson, a senior and head of the homecoming committee, as well as the love interest. All of these people are good actors, and they do a decent job with the limited range that’s required for their roles.
On the adult side is where a lot more of the fun occurs. The adults in the film get to have a lot sillier, less-developed roles. Considering the film focuses on the children, that makes sense. Kurt Russell, Kelly Preston, Bruce Campbell, Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald — as well as one actor I won’t mention for fear of ruining a reference mentioned earlier — all get enjoyable supporting roles, and get the most laughs.
Sky High is a very enjoyable movie about teenage superheroes. While it will feel too familiar for some, it keeps things fresh by adding in superpowers, while also containing enough in-jokes and references for older members of the audience. It’s filled with energy and pure fun, and contains positive messages and themes that can always use reinforcement. Sky High is definitely worth seeing.