I’m still not sure how anyone could think it was a good idea to build a state-of-the-art multi-million dollar theme park and resort on a small island with a dormant volcano. And not just any volcano mind you. One that erupted 20 years earlier killing many islanders in its fury. But greed and intelligence don’t necessarily come hand-in-hand which is one of the points made by the Chinese disaster film “Skyfire”, a movie that actually debuted in China at the end of 2019 but is just now getting distribution here in the States.
“Skyfire” unashamedly follows the long and trusty line of thrill-a-second disaster films. And like those other movies, “Skyfire” has the sole aim of keeping you on the edge your seat with a barrage of fun, non-stop, CGI-infused action. Oh, and there are characters too because I guess you kinda need them. But it’s mostly about the sheer spectacle of it all and I admit it, “Skyfire” really delivers the spectacle. In fact throughout the movie I kept thinking about how fun it would have been to see it in the big screen.
While there have been plenty of these types of movies, “Skyfire” is actually China’s first big budget disaster flick. It would feel right at home in Hollywood and I found myself constantly waiting for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to throw himself into the mayhem. Simon West directs this predominantly Chinese produced romp, working from a script written by Wei Bu and Sidney King. It’s your familiar light and silly fare that fully embraces its utterly ridiculous premise (which is part of its charm), which basically becomes a ‘who’s going to make it out alive‘ story bathed in some pretty impressive digital eye candy.
Jason Isaacs plays British businessman Jack Harris, the brains (or lack of them) behind the high-end Tianhuo island retreat. He has poured his entire fortune (plus some) into building a world class resort, a shopping district full of popular retail stores, and an elaborate monorail for those who can chalk up the cash. “We’ve conquered it (nature) for our own entertainment,” Harris cockily brags in an attempt to woo potential investors. How’s that for a statement begging to be proven wrong?
Also on the island is Meng Li (Hannah Quinlivan), part of a renowned team of volcanologists hired by Harris to be safety consultants. Meng Li has some personal history with the Tianhuo volcano and its eruption 20 years earlier. Now it’s expected to stay dormant for another 150 years, but some alarming activity leads the team to think otherwise. Back home Meng Li’s estranged volcano guru father (Wang Xueqi) knows something’s not right with Tianhuo. He travels back to the island to coax her into coming home, picking at some old daddy-daughter scabs in the process. In the meantime Meng Li tries to warn Harris but of course he doesn’t listen (What kind of ￼disaster movie would you have if he did?). Guess what happens next.
The experts are proven right and the volcano does erupt putting the estimated 50,000 tourists, staff, investors, and developers in immediate danger. From there Simon West stomps the accelerator and spends the rest of the movie at 120 mph+. The characters are given just enough personal detail to distinguish them from each other. Storywise, their main job is to either die or survive, whichever the plot deems fitting. At the same time they’re a pretty likable bunch and you don’t mind sticking with them. Enough so that you actually root for their survival. The only real standout is Quinlivan who shows off some genuine action movie chops.
Movies like “Skyfire” are almost by necessity beholden to a certain expectations. Many of us know the formula well. It’s filled to its volcanic rim with well-worn tropes, genre clichés, and those gooey￼ sentimental moments. The characters are in perpetual danger (the non-stop ultra-dramatic score makes sure we realize it), steadily dodging flying rock, rivers of lava, and bursts of gas. Some of the bigger set pieces really impress such as a scene where survivors attempt to jump from one speeding monorail car to another. Even the lesser ones manage to be enjoyable. Still, chances are if you aren’t into these kinds of flicks then “Skyfire” probably won’t change your mind. But they can be fun and entertaining escapes, especially honest and straight-shooting ones like this. “Skyfire” releases January 12th on VOD.
VERDICT- 3.5 STARS