The “Superhero High School/Teens With Superpowers” idea has been done many times. It was done (pretty) well with “Harry Potter” and “Descendants” (a Disney Channel original movie). It was done less well with “X-Men: Evolution” and “High School Musical.” With “X-Men: Evolution,” the school scenes are the least interesting part of the entire series; and with “High School Musical,” everyone has the same stupid powers of being attractive and good singers and dancers. Look Disney, you’re gonna have to give us a little more range. Make Ashley Tisdale able to shoot lasers out of her jazz hands or something, I don’t care.
But when it comes to “Superhero High School” perfection, there’s an obvious winner. If you’re any good at guessing based on foreshadowing so blatant it should probably just be called “giving you the answer,” I’ll bet you’ve figured out by now that it’s Sky High. If you hadn’t figured it out already, I’m a little worried about your deductive reasoning skills. Maybe take a class or something? I don’t know. But I’m getting away from the point. Sky High is perfect as a coming of age superhero movie. It has smart humor, age appropriate romance, legitimate drama, and surprisingly entertaining action sequences. In addition, it has women and people of color in powerful roles, which was awesome (and surprising) to see in a Disney movie.
Umm . . . spoilers incoming, I guess? But if you haven’t seen this 11.5 year old movie, that’s kind of on you at this point.
Sky High opens with a young man (Will) who wants nothing more than to impress his father. That’s something people can relate to without it being thrown in your face that superhero families are JUST LIKE YOURS!!!!!! We meet his parents, famous superheroes who don’t know that Will doesn’t have any powers. We meet his childhood best friend Layla who has a really awesome powerset. She can control plants, but we later learn that she’s not perfect at it (she can make trees grow, but can’t necessarily control the type of tree or what kind of fruit they bear).
So right from the start we see that Will is dealing with the stress of high school and fears of not living up to his father’s expectations. Sure, there are super powers involved, but it’s as believable a premise as any episode of Gilmore Girls. Even more believable than the idea of Rory ending back up with fucking Logan. Seriously, that dude is the WORST. “Oh, but it parallels her mom’s relationship with Chris,” you’re saying, because you’re stupid. Then learn to write a new story arc, Amy Sherman-Palladino. Not everything has to run parallel to the past, especially when you’ve got someone who is just a dumpster fire of a person like Logan. This is getting off track. I apologize. But seriously, Logan is the worst. #teamjess
The first of only two flaws I found with this movie was the inclusion of Kevin Heffernan as Ron Wilson – Bus Driver. This was the first role I saw him in post-“Super Troopers,” and that was a little jarring. Although I can kind of merge the two a little. Ron Wilson never got his powers, so he moved, changed his name, and took a job that still allowed him to feel like a hero. Unfortunately he grew up in a world of superheroes with powers and quips, so he doesn’t really know how to be a normal human cop so he’s very bad at it, and that repeated failure is why he becomes such a bitter person. He tries to solve every little dispute with violence because he watched his parents puch their way through problems. He even tries to come up with a team name when he gets partnered with Ramathorn. Oh my god you guys, I think we just came up with an origin story for Rod Farva. Never mind, this isn’t a negative anymore, it’s brilliant.
The film gives us a very clever redirect by introducing a false flag primary antagonist. Warren Peace is an awesome character played very well by Steven Strait. He’s moody, which fits the character of a kid whose father was a famous supervillain. He’s not necessarily evil, but he obviously doesn’t like Will, since Will’s dad put Warren’s dad in jail. The two have a fight in the cafeteria, and that’s where we are introduced to Will’s powers for the first time. Also, I can’t believe I forgot to mention this, they got Linda Fucking Carter for this movie. They got Wonder Woman! And at the end of the movie she even gets to make a cheesy nod to the fact that she was Wonder Woman! How cool is that? Linda Carter is the principal of Sky High, and that’s awesome.
Throughout the movie we get to know Will’s friends and their power sets. It’s an ethnically diverse group including a black kid and a Chinese-German girl who are given real personalities rather than just being “main character’s friend.” Plus, they find entertaining and useful ways to use their powers to further the plot despite having been made fun of previously for having “useless” powers. Ethan, played by Dee-Jay Daniels, can turn into slime. He uses that to trick an opponent into a situation that allows him to take that opponent out of the fight. Magenta, played by Kelly Vitz, can turn into a guinea pig, and she literally saves the entire school.
I thought introducing Gwen (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) as the actual primary antagonist was clever both in the way she became the villain and in the pretty awesome power set they gave her. “Technopathy” is not a power I’d heard of before this movie, and I thought it was cool the villain wasn’t just a generic evil genius. Plus her sidekick was Jim Rash, and he is a delight any time he’s in anything. Having Gwen be the original Royal Pain going through high school again because she accidentally turned herself into a child was a very entertaining villain reveal and I was glad they didn’t do another “your dad beat up my dad” like they’d already done for Warren Peace.
This review isn’t super chronological, but I’m okay with that. I’m sort of writing it chronologically, then adding things that excited me about the movie as I think of them. So with that in mind, I liked that Layla was a super-hippie. She has crazy awesome powers but is put in sidekick class because she doesn’t believe in using those powers without reason. So when they’re doing placement testing, she refuses to demonstrate. I like that, it fits her character. But during the final fight she goes ham on the cheerleader who can create body doubles in a really impressive display.
What was originally the second thing I didn’t like about this movie is now the only thing I don’t like. Because it’s a Disney movie, the guy has to get the girl. So at the end of the movie Will and Layla are a couple. We knew Layla liked Will, as she’s spent a major chunk of the movie pining over him. Get it? Pining, when her power is plants? Heh, that was clever of me. But yeah, Layla has made it clear she’s into Will, but there has been zero evidence that Will likes Layla. He was smitten with Gwen because she’s beautiful and was very sweet at first, but obviously when it’s discovered that was all an act the infatuation ends. But to then immediately get involved with a girl who you’ve never really liked is strange, no matter how pretty she is or how good of friends you are. The only real reason for that would be that he’s a high school boy and doesn’t want to turn down anyone who likes him whether he’s into it or not.
Holy crap, I haven’t mentioned yet that they have Cloris Leachman in this movie. Cloris “Done Too Much Cool Shit For Me To Pick Just One For A Middle Name” Leachman! She’s the school nurse, and she shines in her scene. Just shines. My god, this movie is amazing.
When rating movies on a 5 star scale, I always remove half a star automatically if that movie is not “Space Jam.” This movie legitimately gets 4.5 stars. I know I like a lot of silly things that aren’t really very good just because of fun or nostalgia reasons. I’ve been watching “Sabrina The Teenage Witch” on Hulu Plus for the last week. It’s not great, but it’s a ton of fun. “Sky High” is good without any qualifiers. It’s very fun, surprisingly well acted with some seriously big names. His parents are Kurt Russell and Diane Lane for crying out loud. Bruce Campbell is the gym teacher. It seems like everybody wanted a piece of this project, and with good reason. It was a blast to watch, and if you haven’t watched it I suggest you fix that.
That’s all for now. Love and kisses!