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By Pete Vonder Haar | July 30, 2005

Tired of superhero movies yet?

In the last year and a half, we’ve already had The Punisher, Spider-Man 2, Blade: Trinity,” Batman Begins, and Fantastic Four, to name a few. Then there are film adaptations of Iron Man, Wonder Woman, and Ghost Rider waiting in the wings, not to mention the new Superman and X-Men movies. The impressive box office performance of several recent efforts means studios will continue delving deeper and deeper into existing comics (Luke Cage? Deathlok?) for the next successful property, although you probably shouldn’t hold your breath for a Catwoman sequel.

Even so, there are signs that the public’s interest in comic book-based movies is waning. Both the new Batman and Fantastic Four movies have performed well, though not as well as many analysts had predicted. Scrounging for lesser known titles to adapt is unlikely to bring out large audiences, and the overall trend in theater attendance has been down for several years. Given this, a movie based on a high school for super-powered teens may not have seemed like the savviest idea. Fortunately, “Sky High” isn’t bad. In fact, it’s surprisingly good.

“Sky High” makes no bones about who its target audience is. Produced by Disney and starring several teenage newcomers, it eschews the moody tone of some recent costumed efforts and concentrates instead on telling the (sigh) family-friendly tale of young Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano), only son of famed superhero duo The Commander and Jetstream (Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston). Will is about to attend his parents’ alma mater (Sky High, duh), and is understandably nervous, for not only does high school suck to begin with, it’s even worse when – like Will – you’re the only person with no powers. He ends up consigned to the “Sidekick” career path (AKA “Hero Support”), along with kids like the girl who can shapeshift into a guinea pig, the boy who glows (barely), and another boy whose sole power is melting into a puddle. Will struggles with how to tell his proud father of his predicament while also dealing with both the son of a supervillain his dad put in prison and romantic overtures from the student body president.

Don’t go looking for any hidden insights into the adolescent mind here. “Sky High’s” story is, at its core, a fairly generic coming of age tale. The effects aren’t especially impressive, and the plot twist is visible from miles away. So what’s good? For starters, there’s the believability of the kids’ performances, who act refreshingly like adolescents and not prematurely jaded “O.C.” rejects. The gags are inspired, and will elicit laughs from any comic books fan, and the supporting cast is a geek’s dream: Lynda Carter (still easy on the eyes at 54) as the principal, Russell as Commander Stronghold, Bruce Campbell as Coach Boomer, and “Kids in the Hall’s” Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald as faculty members Mr. Boy and Mr. Medulla, respectively. “Mr. Show’s” Tom Kenny and Jill Talley also have cameos, and Kieron Dwyer provided the art for the credits sequences. Not too shabby.

The only major complaint concerns the music, which consists exclusively of rehashed ‘80s pop songs. The filmmakers are obviously trying to recapture the high school feel of old John Hughes movies, that or they’re assuming most of the movie’s audience won’t recognize them in the first place. Either way, it’s annoying, but probably a better choice than using music that today’s high school kids actually listen to. I don’t imagine Disney is too keen on 50 Cent and Eminem.

“Sky High” is a fairly agreeable trifle, providing several laughs and an escape from the summer heat without requiring too much thought. And considering director Mike Mitchell’s previous offerings included “Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo” and Surviving Christmas, maybe we shouldn’t look a gift superhero in the mouth.

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