Demonstrating yet again that the new millennium is a golden age for superheroes on screen, Sky High provides a light, spoofy addition to the comic-book movie canon.
Like last year's The Incredibles, Sky High (rated PG for action violence and some mild language) gives audiences a look at the human side of superherodom. High-school freshman Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) is blessed-or cursed-with a royal pedigree in the world of high-flying life savers. His father (Kurt Russell) is known as "Commander" and possesses super strength; his mother (Kelly Preston) goes by "Jetstream" and whizzes dramatically through the skies.
By day, Commander and Jetstream are realtors (top-selling, of course) Steve and Josie Stronghold. But there's little hope for Will to live a "normal" life. On his first day of high school, a bright yellow bus picks Will up curbside-then quickly barrels over the edge of an uncompleted overpass as wings and rockets spring from hidden compartments. Will is on his way to Sky High, his dad's alma mater, a school for superhero kids hovering in a cloudbank high above the city.
Sky High blends mild superhero spoof with standard (but also mild) adolescent angst. The combination works surprisingly well. Will clumsily feels his way through a new school, new friends, the expectations of his parents . . . and, naturally, his own superhero identity.
At Sky High, the social demarcation falls between the heroes-those with extraordinary superpowers-and the sidekicks-those with more run-of-the-mill strengths. Will hasn't yet discovered his abilities, if he does in fact have them, so he's quickly placed in the sidekick camp with the other "losers," an embarrassment to him and his parents.
Every superhero needs a supervillain, and Will's comes in two forms, befitting the film's twin tracks. His high-school rivalry is with Warren Peace (Steven Strait), whose supervillain father was captured and incarcerated by Will's father. Another nefarious operator, though, whose identity is secret until late in the film, has more sinister plans for the school. Competing love interests arise, too, in the form of childhood friend Layla (Danielle Panabaker) and new crush Gwen Grayson (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).
Most of the laughs in Sky High come from the lift-the-cover moments that expose the everyday banality of the superhero lifestyle. The campy Mr. Russell and Ms. Preston perfectly fit the bill as somewhat oblivious superheroes at the top of their game. On the other hand, someone wisely encouraged the child actors to underplay their parts.
Sky High's effects sometimes resemble a Saturday morning episode of Power Rangers, but in general complement the winking tone of the film. Particularly admirable: the relatively chaste costumes that outfit the superheroes (something not to be taken for granted, even in a kids' film).
Sky High is nearly as weightless as its namesake, but it contains some unexpected pleasures. Although usually played for laughs, Will's parents aren't always wrong, and he eventually learns an important lesson about respecting their authority-common sense in many households, but rare on screen. And Sky High's high-school atmosphere may seem painfully naïve to many, but it strikes just enough honest notes to resonate with the target audience while remaining wholesome enough for the rest of the family.
Some of Sky High's messages verge on "I'm OK, you're OK" mediocrity. But as a lightweight summer film that provides a few laughs, some decent moral instruction, and a generally winsome tone, Sky High reaches a very comfortable cruising altitude.