SKYFIRE (2019) review

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After Renny Harlin, it’s time for Simon West, another purveyor of 1990s and 2000s Hollywood blockbusters, to catch a second or third wind in China – after this, West directed The Legend Hunters, an upcoming Mojin adaptation. Skyfire is set on Tianhu, a volcanic island off the coast of China. Twenty years ago, vulcanologist Li Wentao (Wang Xueqi) lost his wife during a sudden eruption on Tianhuo; cut to present day, and the island, which is supposedly safe from any eruption for the next 150 years, has been turned into a theme park and resort by Australian businessman Jack Harris (Jason Isaacs). Much to Li’s chagrin, his daughter Xiaomeng (Hannah Quinlivan) is part of scientific team monitoring the volcano thanks to hundreds of sensors buried in the mountain. Certain that an eruption is imminent, Li travels to the island to get his daughter to safety – but it’s already too late: the volcano awakes, and all hell breaks loose.

Unleashing Nature’s blunt, destructive wrath upon Man and his creations, disaster films are a rather narrow genre that doesn’t allow for much narrative reinvention, and only occasionally for technological innovation in special effects. On both fronts, Skyfire underwhelms greatly. Narratively, the set up owes a lot to Jurassic Park (specifically Jurassic World) with its ‘what were they thinking’ theme park, and there’s not a single aspect of the story that isn’t the umpteenth rehash of a disaster film trope: the scientist whose warnings are ignored until  it’s too late, the businessman ignoring the signs of impending doom because he’s blinded by profit, the daredevil son/daughter (tick as appropriate) harboring resentment against his/her father, the selfless hunk, the little girl separated from her mother, the list goes on.

No character is more than the smooth approximation of a human being, and a largely bland cast doesn’t help matters: Hannah Quinlivan, though omnipresent, has little to no presence, Ji Lingchen provides painfully flavorless comic relief, while Shawn Dou can’t be blamed for being so dull, when the character he plays has not been given a single defining feature. Newcomer Ma Xinmo is more compelling as the conflicted wife of the man responsible for this disaster, but it’s the veterans that command real attention: Wang Xueqi is as commanding a presence as ever, and gives Sly Stallone some competition when it comes to being a believable action hero in his seventies, and Jason Isaacs makes a strong impression in an extended cameo as the only character given more than one dimension. In terms of spectacle, the film is a mixed bag. Mediocre green-screen work and some jarring instances of shoddy CGI often make the film look cheap, though there are a few genuinely nail-biting scenes: a jeep’s mad dash through raining lava right to the edge of a cliff is a showstopper and the only time the film delivers on its promise.

Long Story Short: A few nail-biting moments, and the commanding presence of Wang Xueqi and Jason Isaacs can’t rescue Skyfire from its trite plot and uneven visuals. **

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2 Comments

  1. You know what? I may not comment on each review but they do give me something worthwhile to read (especially at the moment) and I do appreciate that you’re still churning these out at an impossible pace. Thanks! I only hope you don’t run out of or lose access to films that need reviews.

    Reply
    • Thank you, I really appreciate it! The heightened pace these days is mostly due to the unfortunate global situation at the moment.

      Reply

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