As the only son of two famous superheroes, Captain Stronghold (a playful Kurt Russell) and Josie Jetstream (Kelly Preston), teenaged Will (Michael Angarano, “Lords of Dogtown”) is struggling with the absence of his promised inherited superpowers. Sent off to the airborne high school for heroes, Sky High, Will has trouble fitting in, quickly labeled a “sidekick” and stuck with a disappointing future. When his powers do finally come to save the day, Will is offered a brighter future, but is faced with neglecting his true friends in the process, and losing himself to the advances of a senior (Mary Elizabeth Winsted) who takes a suspicious shine to the freshman.
Sky High is the name of the school the superhero kids attend, but it serves more specifically as a description of the potential of the premise. This mild, lighthearted knock off of “X-Men” doesn’t need to accomplish much to be entertaining and exciting, yet oddly, the film struggles constantly just to maintain mediocrity.
Coming off what many consider one of the more embarrassing bombs of 2004, the underrated (and I’m alone there, I know) “Surviving Christmas,” director Mike Mitchell seems eager to please with this sunny Walt Disney production. I’ll give him this: “Sky High” looks swell. Coated in bright primary colors and loaded with upbeat special effects, “High” works hard at creating the aura that the film is much more amusing than it really is. This confusion is backed up by the lively supporting cast (including Dave Foley, Bruce Campbell, Kevin McDonald, and Lynda Carter), who all seemed stifled by the lack of a single comedic vision for the film, leaving the humor of “High” falling flat on almost all accounts.
“Sky High” doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. On one side of the film is the “lil’ X-Men” material, which is sincerely enjoyable to watch unfold; following the students as they go from class to class, honing their skills and learning the intricacies of life as a superhero is barrels of fun, and when the film wants to pay attention to this subplot, “High” is unstoppable. However, the other half of the picture is saddled with traditional teen high school shenanigans, including Will finding himself in a love triangle, dealing with cliched bullies, losing his friends with his rising popularity, and the finale, which takes place at a homecoming dance. For a film that wants to poke and play with the superhero genre, these Hughesian melodramatic asides are kryptonite to the picture; grinding whatever energy it had mustered to a screeching halt. You tell me what’s more interesting: watching a young man learn how to fly and control his super-strength, or stammer around asking a girl to a dancer
“Sky High” loses itself in the chaotic finale, with Mitchell going a little bonkers trying to outdo himself and leave the film on a extravagant note. And he wins no friends with a ghastly, last minute “Wonder Woman” joke either. There’s plenty left to enjoy in “Sky High” without leaving the theater too disappointed, but the potential for greatness was there in the hands of a production team that just didn’t know what to do with it.Rating: C