Sunday, July 31, 2005


The League goes to see these movies because we know you won't...

After having watched commercials for a few weeks and noting Lynda "Wonder Woman" Cater was in the film, The League did some crafty maneuvering and tricked Jamie into going to see Disney's new teen super feature "Sky High".

Sky High is pretty much, beat for beat, what one would expect if you've seen the trailers. The movie is pretty much a lot of elements from lots of coming-of-age movies tied in with a Harry Potter-lite element. The movie is riding the superhero trend, more in the vein of Incredibles than Spider-Man.

The movie follows Will Stronghold, child of two of the greatest superheroes on earth (an earth which is well fortified with super beings, it is suggested) as he leaves the public school system to start his Freshman year at Sky High, a school for the children of super powered folks. The school is there to prepare these kids to follow in their parent's footsteps.

Nothing is really made of Will wanting to buck the family tradition, which is a relief. A character wishing for a humdrum life when he can shoot lasers out of his eyes might make for compelling inner monologue in a comic, but it's a tough sell to kids 3-12. Nor does it make for the best use of the filmic medium. Instead, he's much more concerned about not being able to live up to the legacy his father (and, apparently, grandpa) have established before him.

Will's parents are the Commander (Super Strength) and Jetstream (karate-wielding flier), but Will has not yet shown any powers himself. Of course, there's a lovely girl who likes him whom he hasn't noticed except as friend (which seems like an odd-bit of science fiction as she's quite pretty), and the pretty, popular girl whose attention he soon wants to get. Due to the fact that Will's powers don't seem to be materializing, Will is tossed in with "Hero Support" aka "Sidekicks", the folks with superpowers so negligible that they're destined for a life of assisting folks with better powers (can you see the direction this is going?).

The movie is directed towards two audiences. 1: Kids who will watch anything with people shooting fire out of their eyes (ie Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers) and, 2: The Parents of the Kids who will actually get the jokes in the movie.

Watching the movie in a near full house as we did, I sincerely got the feeling the parents (especially the dads) were enjoying the movie more than their kids. And maybe that wasn't a mistake. The main characters may all be high-school aged kids, but the teachers include two members of Kids in the Hall, Lynda Carter, Kurt Russell, Bruce Campbell and Cloris Leechman. And, perhaps befitting, the adults in the film seem to have taken the roles because most of them are really pretty funny.

Kurt Russell's "Commander" is given to ham-handed hero speak, in a sort of too-thought out attempt at speechifying (a Kurt Russell we've all sort of missed in recent years). Dave Foley plays an instructor for the Sidekicks, teaching sidekick skills and still milking his glory days as the long forgotten "All-American Boy". Kevin McDonald plays the "Mad Science" instructor with the two foot cranium. Bruce Campbell is the coach, and Cloris Leechman plays the school doctor (with X-Ray vision). And Lynda Carter is... Lynda Carter. Does she really need to be anything else?

Will kids think word problems involving flying superheroes are funny? Well, the adults seemed to like it. Will they understand why 12-story robots are inherently funny? No. Their still in a phase where 12-story robots are a dangerous threat. And, you know what? That's okay.
(ed note: I loved the gaint robot sequence. There just aren't enough giant robots in movies)

The prerequisite points about friendship, self-worth and avoiding popular girls are made in a manner slightly less embarrassing than in the typical Teen-Wolf film. Will kids get a lot of the snide commentary on high-school culture the film's producers slip in? Probably not. Well, maybe.

In one last hint that the movie is also catering to parents, the soundtrack is largely composed of 80's tunes, including an unlikely cover of the Talking Heads' "And She Was". Of course I say that, and I think the kids these days are nuts for the 80's so they might really dig a new version fo "Voices Carry".

Ed side note: Yesterday a troop of girls I saw walking across the Target parking lot looked like 1985 had barfed them up like an overripe hairball. Jamie suggested they were headed for a costume party, but that seemed a little high-concept. Plus, here in AZ it's the first week of school, so all the kids are in "fashion week" where they're breaking in their new personality they bought over the summer. (I miss having to break in really dark blue jeans that felt like they were made out of card-board tubes)

As a whole, the movie works just fine. It's nothing I'm going to be modeling my life after, but I might watch it again at some point on cable. It's nothing I'm going to recommend "YOU MUST SEE THIS FILM". But it's also not the piece of junk I was more or less expecting.

Don't expect anything too amazing, and don't be shocked when some of the FX are a bit hokey. But also give the producers some credit for showing a love for the material.

Now, for an added bonus: The League rants about nerds/ jocks in comics

Probably due to the overwhelming popularity of Ultimate Spider-Man, Marvel has been publishing a spate of comics starring teen-agers. The excuse is: Teen-agers are learning about themselves and it's much more fertile territory.

The problem is this: The only story they ever bother to tell is apparently the one which resonates most with comic fans. Nerd gets bullied by "idiot jock", nerd stumbles into amazing powers, nerd gets cheap, violent revenge. Or not. But the common thread is that there's some enormous moose in the hallway at school seemingly torturing our poor, helpless hero who has undiscovered poetry in his/ her soul and is looking for an opportunity to unleash it (and impress the pretty girl/ guy).

Ugh. It's bad enough that this is the perception of "how things are in high school", but let's be honest... everyone is a jerk to everyone else at that age. You don't need enormous "jocks" picking on "nerds" for 15-17 year olds to start bugging each other. And, secondly, the people buying these comics are how old? And they're still picking this stuff up?

I can take some of it. I do, after all, enjoy most of Ultimate Spider-Man. And the nebbish dweeb reveals amazing abilities was the basis for Action Comics #1. I even don't mid reading teen-books (I pick up Teen Titans). BUT, get a new origin. No more jock-pummeling wish fulfillment. Spider-Man did it first and did it better.

Oh, and Narnia Rant: I really want to see this movie. But I need to read the book first.

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