In Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, when Peter Parker administers a solid and spectacular ass-whupping to Flash, the musclebound pretty-boy who humiliates him daily, in view of Mary Jane, the viewer enjoys an incredible catharsis by seeing a fantastic event (a young man suddenly invested with super-powers) correcting a real injustice (geeks worldwide getting beat up day after day by cool guys). Sky High happily offers this same catharsis through almost two whole acts.
However, unlike Spider-Man, whose diegesis* brilliantly reconciles the roughness of reality with comic book conventions, Mike Mitchell’s film evacuates from the start any correspondence with the world in which we live (this is perfectly illustrated during the prologue and the epilogue, which are narrated through authentic drawn panels, before switching to flesh and bone actors). Consequently, whereas tragedy could ineluctably strike the destiny of the characters of Spider-man, in Sky High, the moviegoer can watch quietly, confidently waiting to savor the inevitable triumph of “sidekicks” over “heroes”. Yes, because as soon as they enter superhero school, students are assigned their future vocation depending on the effectiveness of their powers: heroes or sidekicks (the film being a rather potent fable denouncing the dissensions and the devalorization of students, caused by academic evaluation systems). Young Will Stronghold, who’s the son of the most famous superhero couple in the world (The Commander and Jetstream) but whose powers have yet to manifest themselves, is relegated among the sidekicks, who he will befriend and defend, but not without betraying them first.
As you can see, Sky High is more of a teen flick than a superhero movie. The story of the uncool guy who becomes cool, forgets about his uncool friends, joining the ranks of those who are already cool, beforing realizing that, after all, being cool is not as cool as he thought, etc. is nothing new, but it’s sympathetic nonetheless and there are a lot of comic twists on the codes and themes of comic books (for instance, students engage in a game called “Save the Citizen”, which has them trying to save a plaster dummy before it’s shredded by a hellish machine).
This has been done before, of course, notably in the masterpiece that is Brad Bird’s The Incredibles, which Sky High is far from being able to rival with. Still, with its aesthetic that marries the colorful and deliberately psychotronic world of the 1960s Batman series and Ultraman movies (for the comic book elements) with the politically correct and naively reactionary one of the old Father Knows Best TV show (for the family relationships), Mitchell’s picture is frankly entertaining. Finally, just to see Kurt Russell in his Commander costume making a tuna sandwhich in his kitchen or Bruce Campbell playing the asshole coach with the whistle, Sky High is worth checking out.
Review by Jean Carlo Lavoie (translation by K. Laforest)
*JEAN CARLO WORD OF THE DAY*
Diegesis: the narrative that includes all the parts of the story that are not actually shown on the screen, such as events that have led up to the present action; people who are being talked about; or events that are presumed to have happened elsewhere; in fact, all the frames, spaces and actions not focused on visually in the film’s main narrative.