Saturday, June 2, 2018

Stubs - Sky High

Sky High (2005) Starring: Kelly Preston, Michael Angarano, Danielle Panabaker, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kurt Russell. Directed by Mike Mitchell. Screenplay by Paul Hernandez, Bob Schooley, Mark McCorkle. Produced by Andrew Gunn. Runtime: 100 minutes. USA. Color. Comedy, Superhero

Growing up is never easy, especially when you live in the shadow of your parent, and it’s even harder when your parents are The Commander and Jetstream, two of the greatest superheroes. That’s the premise of Sky High, a 2005 comedy from Disney. The film pokes fun at the type of superheroes that Disney is riding to great profits with its purchase of Marvel Studios in 2009 for $4 billion.

Originally conceived by screenwriter Paul Hernandez in the 1990s, Disney became attracted to the idea. The studio hired comedy writers Mark McCorkle and Bob Schooley (creators of Kim Possible) to polish Hernandez's script, and they only wrote the beginning and ending sequences.

The film opens on Will Stronghold’s (Michael Angarano) first day of ninth grade at Sky High, a high school that exclusively teaches teenagers with superpowers. Will's parents are The Commander (Kurt Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston), two of the world's most famous superheroes. Their cover is as husband and wife real estate agents Steve Stronghold and Josie DeMarco-Stronghold. They have to balance showing houses with saving the world.

Will Stronghold’s (Michael Angarano) best friend, Layla (Danielle Panabaker), has a crush on him.

Will's best friend is Layla (Danielle Panabaker), who also happens to have superpowers, the ability to manipulate plant life, and a secret crush on him. Will thinks of her only as a friend.

The school in Sky High is floating above the Earth.

Will is anxious because, unlike everyone else, it seems, his power has not manifested itself. He pretends to have super strength, by faking to lift heavy weights, and his parents are none the wiser. But all of his friends appear to have powers that are presenting. The big question at the high school is whether or not they’ll be classified as a “Hero” or a “Sidekick”.

Ron Wilson, Bus Driver (Kevin Heffernan) loves his job.

Sky High is located on a floating campus and is reached by a flying school bus, driven by Ron Wilson, Bus Driver (Kevin Heffernan). Like the students, both of his parents were heroes but, as we learn later, Ron didn’t inherit powers.

Lynda Carter plays Principal Powers.

After an introduction by the school’s principal, Principal Powers (Lynda Carter), the freshmen are taken to be divided between heroes and sidekicks aka "Hero Support" by Coach Tommy “Boomer” Boomowski, also known as Sonic Boom (Bruce Campbell).

The new Sidekicks class.

Since Will has no powers, he’s labeled a sidekick. Layla, who finds the whole thing pointless, doesn’t participate and ends up with him in the sidekick curriculum. His other classmates include Ethan (Dee Jay Daniels), who melts into a fluid; Zach (Nicholas Braun), who glows in the dark; and Magenta (Kelly Vitz), who transforms into a guinea pig. The class is taught by a former sidekick, “All American Boy” (David Foley), who used to work with Will’s father.

David Foley plays All American Boy, a former sidekick to The Commander.

Will learns from Nurse Spex (Cloris Leachman) that he might not ever get powers. But he doesn’t tell his father, who is proud of his son and shares with him his hidden trophy room, the Secret Sanctum, where he keeps trophies from his battles, including a mysterious weapon that even the Commander doesn’t know what it does, “The Pacifier”. He tells Will that he took it off a villain, years ago at Sky High, called Royal Pain, who was presumed dead.

The Commander (Kurt Russell) takes Will down to his Secret Sanctum.

Unbeknownst to them, they are being watched by Royal Pain and her minion through a camera in one of the Commander’s and Jetstream’s latest conquests.

Speed (Will Harris) and Lash (Jake Sandvig) are the bullies at the school.

The underclass students are constantly harassed by seniors Lash and Speed (Jake Sandvig and Will Harris). Lash is a thin boy with elasticity, while Speed is heavyset but can run at an extremely high speed. They hassle Will to the point that he inadvertently bothers Warren Peace (Steven Strait), pyrokinetic and the son of a supervillain known as Baron Battle, who is in jail with four life sentences thanks to the Commander. Warren wants to be left alone, though that proves harder and harder with time.

Warren Peace (Steven Strait) is pyrokinetic and hates Will.

Will does grab the attention of Gwendolyn "Gwen" Grayson (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a popular senior, a "technopath" who controls machines with her mind and the chairperson of the upcoming Homecoming Dance.

Gwen Grayson (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a popular senior at Sky High.

Gwen’s friends include Penny Lent (Malika Haqq and Khadijah Haqq), who can duplicate herself many times over. Gwen is pretty and smart and after Will finally shows his power, super strength helps tutor him in Professor Medulla’s (Kevin McDonald) science class.

Gwen helps Will catch up with Professor Medulla's (Kevin McDonald) science class.

Gwen visits the Stronghold's house and asks Will's parents to attend the Homecoming Dance to accept an award for Superhero of the Year. Flattered, they, of course, accept. Later, while walking to her home, Gwen asks Will to be her date to Homecoming and, to his delight, becomes his girlfriend.

Will, however, had made a date to meet Layla at her favorite Chinese restaurant and stands her up. Warren, who buses there, sits and talks to her. He can tell Layla is in love with Will and agrees to help her try to make him jealous.

While helping Will with his science homework, Gwen convinces him to let her have the Homecoming Dance committee over while his parents are out saving the world. This turns into a major party and Gwen asks Will to take her somewhere where they can be alone. Even though he’s been told never to take anyone there, he takes her to his father’s Secret Sanctum. While she keeps him preoccupied, Dash comes through and steals the Pacifier.

Will breaks up with Gwen after she chases Layla away.

During the party, Layla happens to come by to talk to Will but Gwen intercepts her. She tells her that Will has no interest in her and Layla storms off, not wanting to ever speak to Will again. Will is mad with Gwen and breaks up with her, just before his parents return and clear the house.

Jetstream (Kelly Preston) and The Commander break up the party.

Will decides that he doesn’t want to go to the Dance and his parents consider leaving but are spotted. Meanwhile, Will looks through one of his father’s old yearbooks and sees a student who resembles Gwen, Sue Tenny. He figures that Tenny was Royal Pain and that Gwen must be her daughter. He rushes to the dance. Needing a ride, he calls on Ron Wilson, Bus Driver for a ride.

Royal Pain turns her Pacifier on everyone at the Homecoming Dance.

Meanwhile, at the dance, Gwen has revealed herself to actually be Royal Pain. During her previous confrontation with the Commander, the Pacifier, which is meant to turn its target into an infant, had malfunctioned, turning her into a baby instead. Faking her death, she waited seventeen years to get her revenge.

After turning the Commander and Jetstream into babies, she turns her youth ray on the rest of the school. With Speed, Lash, and Penny, she takes over the school.

Penny Lent (Malika Haqq and Khadijah Haqq) helps Royal Pain take over the dance.

When he arrives at the school, Will apologizes to Layla and teams up with Warren, the sidekicks, and Ron Wilson to try to save the day. The sidekicks demonstrate their heroism after Royal Pain sabotages the school's anti-gravity drive and their powers come in handy restarting it, especially Magneta, who shapeshifts into a guinea pig and chews through the wires on Royal Pain’s device.

The Sidekicks come to the rescue when Royal Pain takes over the dance.

Meanwhile, Will discovers that he has Jetstream's powers of flight when he is thrown off the edge of the school grounds and prevents the campus from falling using his two abilities. Gwen and her henchmen are defeated and arrested and the faculty and students are returned to their proper ages thanks to baby Medulla’s ability to reverse the ray.

Even as a baby, Medulla is smart enough to reverse the Pacifier's effect.

Will and Layla finally kiss.

Voiceover narration by Will reveals that he and Layla become a couple, he and Warren became best friends, and Ron Wilson becomes a superhero after falling into a vat of toxic waste, which is one way some people gain them.

Having seen this film before, I had forgotten just how funny it is. The play on the whole superhero genre is played almost perfectly. All of the usual clichés of the genre at the time are covered. The film has a lot in common with The Incredibles (2004), in which we see husband and wife superheroes now raising a family. And like The Incredibles, Sky High is funny without giving in to juvenile or too much bathroom humor. I know it may sound cliché, but in this day and age, that is a pleasant surprise if you’re looking for a family-friendly film, which is what drew us to Sky High many years ago.

The acting is pretty good, considering the youth of the leading cast and their relative inexperience in front of a film camera. While Michael Angarano had been in films since his uncredited role as 1st Boy in Childhood’s End (1996), this was easily his biggest film to date. He plays a bit younger than his actual age at the time, but he’s quite enjoyable to watch, as are the other adolescent actors. A couple of them deserve extra praise. Sky High was Danielle Panabaker’s first film, though she had been acting on television since 2002. The film was also Steven Strait’s first film for the model turned actor.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Gwen a technopath in Sky High.

I don’t think I’ve seen Mary Elizabeth Winstead in any movie that I didn’t think she was good in. Perhaps best-known for her roles as Lucy Gennero-McClane in Live Free or Die Hard (2007) and Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), she was also very good as Michelle in 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016). Here she plays a pretty villain and she carries off the role.

Of the adult actors, the main one is Kurt Russell as The Commander. A talented actor, Russell is perhaps best known for early roles in Disney films like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969), playing Elvis Presley in the 1979 television movie Elvis and for his long-term relationship with actress Goldie Hawn. The son of Western actor Bing Russell, Kurt got his start in films acting opposite Elvis Presley in one scene in It Happened at the World's Fair (1963). While comedy seems to be his forte, he has appeared in a variety of films, including Escape From New York (1981), The Fox and The Hound (1981), The Thing (1982), Silkwood (1983), Swing Shift (1984), The Mean Season (1985), Overboard (1987), Tango & Cash (1989), Stargate (1994), Escape From L.A. (1996), Vanilla Sky (2001), and more recently The Hateful Eight (2015), Deepwater Horizon (2016) and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017).  Here he plays his role with just enough of a comic touch to make you feel that The Commander isn’t always in on the jokes.

Kelly Preston plays Jetstream in Sky High.

Kelly Preston has a smaller role as the mother of the Stronghold clan as the film concentrates more on Will’s relationship with his father. Preston, however, plays her role with a subtle comedic flare and makes for perhaps the sexiest female superhero since Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman on TV and until Gal Gadot’s turn as Wonder Woman (2017).

Lynda Carter gets to play the Principal of Sky High with a little tongue and cheek. She even gets to elude to her most famous role by claiming there is only so much she can do since she isn’t Wonder Woman.

There are several comedians with supporting roles like David Foley and Kevin McDonald, both from the Canadian sketch show, The Kids in the Hall. They both have good comedic timing and know how to play their parts for laughs. Cloris Leachman makes the most of her small role as Nurse Spex. Also noteworthy is Bruce Campbell, who goes easily from roles in horror films, like the Evil Dead series, to comedic supporting roles in the original Sam Raimi Spider-Man films to playing the sidekick in the TV-series Burn Notice. While I’m not a fan of horror films, I do enjoy him in all the roles I’ve seen him in and he doesn’t disappoint here.

The story, which some have compared with the Japanese manga/anime series My Hero Academia, also seems to have some similarities with the Harry Potter series. Sky High is this universe’s Hogwarts Academy and the hero/sidekick categorization is not too dissimilar to the sorting hat sequence in the books and films, which determine which house the new student belongs. Luckily here, there is not a Hufflepuff equivalent.

The special effects, which a film like this has to have, are not necessarily the best, though I have to doubt that was the intention of the filmmakers, to begin with. There is a real over the top with purpose look to the flying bus’s engines as an example. All of that is fine as it seems to fit with the overall mood of the film, which isn’t meant to be taken too seriously.

Overall, I would suggest the film to anyone over the age of 12. There is a good mix of humor, action, and magic that will keep most people engaged and several laugh out loud moments, if our recent viewing is any indication. This film is to superhero films what Galaxy Quest was to the Star Trek franchise, a good-natured ribbing of the genre and well worth watching more than once.

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