Sky High (2005)
—About this Film
“My girlfriend becomes my arch enemy, my arch enemy becomes my best friend, and my best friend becomes my girlfriend. But hey, that’s high school.” This statement in the movie pretty much sums up the movie’s plot; and after having volunteered with high school youth groups for over 8 years, also is an accurate description of life in high school.
I wasn’t too sure about this movie when the lights went down (and I had a lot more time to consider my misgivings as I sat through 10+ minutes of commercials before I even go to the previews). It sounded like a poor attempt to create a real life version of the Incredibles and from what trailers I had seen it seemed like it was just going to be a dumb and dumber version of the Incredibles.
But I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, it was kind of hokey at times, but overall it was a pretty good movie. It won’t make my list of movies that I would pay to go see a second time at the theater, but I would sit down and watch the DVD with someone who hadn’t seen it yet.
Working with high school students I have more than once heard complaints about how hard it is to be a freshman in today’s world and how it important it is to “fit in”. Well, just like it was many, many, many, many years ago when I was in high school – being a freshman can be the pits. Especially when you stand out. And this is the problem for Will Stronghold, played by Michael Angarano. The son of not one, but two super heroes (Commander Stronghold played by Kurt Russell and Josie Jetstream played by Kelly Preston – evidently the best in the business), everyone has an expectation that the young Stronghold will have superpowers beyond imagination. And not just his friends and teachers, but also there are high expectations forced on Will by his parents, who are already planning to announce the “family Stronghold”, the greatest super hero family ever. Unfortunately, Will shows up for his first day of school without “any” powers at all. Talk about standing out. Add to this, the first day of school, Will runs into the movie’s loner, dressed all gothic-like, tough guy who is out to get revenge on Will because Will’s father (the Commander) had put the tough guy’s father in prison. The tough guy is well played by Steven Strait as Warren Peace – the son of a super hero mother and an arch villain father – “Warren Peace” – get it :0) There are a lot of these types of puns in the film, but I won’t intentionally punish the film in my review for this since it doesn’t really impact the overall enjoyment factor.
The story, while I initially thought was just going to be a silly farce about super heroes and high school, turned out to have a real plot and some fairly good acting – though you do have to get past the super hero costumes and watching high school students flying, throwing fireballs, or shape-shifting (which has some funny aspects to itself if you pay close attention).
Scrape away the super hero facade and you will find a very entertaining and message filled story about “coming out and growing up” – or learning the difference between being a kid and approaching adulthood. Also you will find a story about friendship and the importance of maintaining these relationships. And that as we get older, the decisions we make have a greater impact -- something that comes as a major shock to most teens I have worked with. Also, as a child, you take things at face value, but as you age you find that you need to look beyond the outer appearance, you need to dig deeper and understand what is underneath the surface.
Besides the deeper messages in the movie, it was just plain funny and good time. Not because of the costumes or the story’s backdrop, but because of the interaction and lines between the actors. These interactions and conversations were even funnier because it was as if you took everyday teen events and put them in an absurd setting. Such as when Will’s parents first find out that he doesn’t have any super powers, the mother (Jetstream) says that there is nothing they can do – it’s not like they can drop Will into a vat of toxic waste (which is evidently how some teens have accidentally gotten their powers) – and Will’s father (Commander Stronghold) agrees – besides he wasn’t even sure where they could find a vat of toxic waste (indicating that the thought had crossed his mind). Almost like they were talking about Will not doing well in Geometry. But even these humorous moments are fraught with lessons that are worth grasping. When Will’s father and mother realize that their son may never have powers, they accept that they may never be the best super hero family there ever is, so instead, they are determined to be just the best family there ever was. And if Will can’t be a great super hero, then maybe he can be a great real estate agent (the Commander and Jetstream’s cover – which they are very good at and enjoy as much as their super hero work). A great lesson for all of us. Accept what you can’t change and move on. Don’t be burdened with old perceptions of what is necessary to make a happy life and future, but make the most of what you have and make something joyful out of that.
I thought the acting was as good as you could probably get considering the format of the film and storyline. And some of the best acting came not necessarily from the big names like Kurt Russell, but from the supporting cast with Steven Strait, Danielle Panabaker as Layla (complete with the rolled up buns of hair on either side of the head), Kelly Vitz as Magenta, Nicholas Braun as Zach, Dee Jay Daniels as Ethan, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Gwen.
One thing I really enjoyed was to watch a movie where there was a decent relationship between parents and their child and also among friends. It felt good to see something other than teens (all pretty much played by people in their late 20s) jumping into bed with everyone they meet, trying to decide which drug to take, or finding new ways to break the law and disobey their parents. I can tell you, after spending many years intimately aware of teen problems (and more than just youth group kids), yes there are a few that might fit nicely into the current crop of semi-drama teen TV series, but by and far the majority are more like the kids in Sky High. No, they can’t fly or freeze someone (though the stare that some of them give you could almost accomplish this), but they are more concerned with things like trying to get on a particular sports team, or trying to setup a date to the movies for the weekend, or passing their next exam – and in the worse case scenarios, dealing with family problems such as divorce.
Overall I thought the movie was a great one for both kids and adults. Not too goofy, yet not a lot of innuendo that kids will be asking “what did they mean”. It is pretty straight forward with a good sense of humor and reality (sans the super hero stuff).
Add to this good entertainment value, a Message in the Movie that was also pretty straight forward. Real friendship is more important, and more powerful, than any sort of benefit you get from being popular and the material rewards that go with it. This is an important message that I have gotten from the Gospels -- that it is not the things you possess or the things you do to impress others, but the love you share and receive in return. Shifting from a spiritual perspective to a scientific -- any psychiatrist, psychologist, or anyone working in the health care field will tell you -- it’s all about relationships. The other message is that real power (in contrast to comical super powers) sometimes comes from doing what is right vs. what feels good. Just as Saint Paul tells the Corinthians, when you are a child you do childish things, but when you grow up, as Will and his friends do in the movie, then you need to put your childish ways behind you. And as you leave childish things behind you need to take on the responsibility that goes with being a grown up.
—About this Film