I was originally, at most, a very casual fan of this series (I was mostly just a fan of Sky High), and the film seemed to remedy all what didn’t quite sell me on the TV series. Visually, it looks exactly like an episode of the TV series, no antes upped there, but it takes advantage of its film format and utilizes it really well. There’s more time taken to get a feel for the characters, more opportunities taken to explore the differing dynamics between the characters, better choreographed action, and allows itself some breathing room for the quieter, more personal moments.
There were quiet moments in the TV series too, but due to the film format, I think I was able to appreciate them more here, and the added material helped a great deal. For example, in the original TV series, I never really got much of a “feel” for Kotetsu’s love for Tomoe (apparently, the drama CDs are a required listening material for that), but in the film, the moment of Kotetsu looking at a wedding ad, remembering his wife and her parting words to him that echo throughout the movie, was just enough to effectively convey what an impact she had on him as a person. I don’t remember if the scene where he thinks he’s lost his daughter to the rubble and flashbacks to the moments of her birth and growing up were in the original TV episode, but that was excellent as well.
Barnaby’s added sensitivity to children and their families makes him for a more palatable character here; here, his past isn’t limited to being an obsession he can’t shake off until he finds the mystery behind it, but also plays an important part in how he relates to others beyond a preference for being distant and closed-off. Again, my memory might be failing me, but I don’t remember the heroes (aside from Kotetsu) reacting so negatively to his withdrawn, cold appearance, and that helped to make his character more palatable and interesting to watch as he gains the personal respect of others (without him consciously vying for it), as well as place him on a more equal footing with Kotetsu.
I really liked that their biggest triumph as partners wasn’t even during the climatic battle, but at the final scene, with Barnaby finally answering Kotetsu’s call.
The new villain was silly and in-line with the series’ tone, and I was glad he didn’t occupy the entirety of the film. Not a great villain, but his amount of screentime was just enough that he didn’t wear on the film, and his powers provided an interesting and fun enough challenge for all the heroes to face up against.
If there’s one bone I had to pick about the film (and I suspect eyes will roll at what I have to say, but please just hear me out), it was the decision to play Nathan’s open sexuality for laughs in the worst possible manner. The TV series wasn’t pitch-perfect in that regard either, but here, he gets a running gag where grabs Antonio’s ass on the whim while Antonio is telling him to knock it off (and not in a teasing, “Hey, cut it out,” way either, but an explicitly uncomfortable “Please knock that shit off” way). I can get where others would get a laugh out of it, I even got a chuckle out of him saying “I didn’t even get to touch his butt!” (not a direct quote, but more or less what I remembered) when Barnaby indifferently turned away from his flirtatious advances, but aside from the non-consensual aspect of it, I also couldn’t shake off how it further perpetuated the negative stereotype of gay men as horndogs incapable of keeping their hands off other men. Even if that likely wasn’t the film’s intent, and I know it was all meant to be all in good fun, it still left a bad taste in my mouth. It’s frustrating, because the film shows it’s capable of getting laughs out of Nathan’s character unrelated to his preference for men, such as the bit where he cuts off Blue Rose’s catchphrase, which was great. Not enough to kill the film for me, but I think it’s worth bringing up.
That aside, everyone else shines here, including Antonio, who was originally such an under-utilized character I completely forgot what he even did in the original series. I liked how their NEXT powers played into their lives outside of heroes, such as Karina freezing the drink on her table in frustration, or freezing a water fountain to use as a mirror. We even got to see what it was like for Keith to use his powers outside his Sky High alter ego! Nice! Too bad we didn’t get to see John, though.
Good film for fans and newcomers alike. Looking forward to the next one!