Simon West, the director of such acclaimed classics as The Expendables 2 and Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up music video, isn’t exactly a name that exudes confidence in audiences. His latest effort is Skyfire, a disaster action-fest that put him in the director seat for a big-budget Chinese disaster movie. The results of this bizarre cinematic experiment might surprise you, as Skyfire is absolutely nowhere near as bad as it probably should be.
Performed by an almost all-Chinese cast with the inexplicable exception of Jason Isaacs who sticks out like a sore thumb, Skyfire is a Mandarin-language action thriller that sees a geologist (Hannah Quinlivan) and her estranged father (Xueqi Wang) racing against time to save lives when a volcano erupts on a tropical island resort in the South China Sea, putting the lives of everyone on the island, including the guests at Jack Harris (Isaacs)’ swanky hotel, at great risk. With almost every cliché under the sun present and correct – Isaacs’ greedy businessman ignoring the warning signs of impending doom to keep his resort open being the most prevalent in the film’s first act – Skyfire lacks originality throughout. The film looks and feels a lot like Jurassic World in its structure, aesthetic and narrative, but with less dinosaurs and more lava. A feeling of déjà vu is palpable. Clunky exposition and occasionally wooden acting certainly doesn’t help distract from the film’s familiarity.
The film is often nonsensical in its character motives and set-pieces, but that comes with the territory in the disaster movie subgenre. It’s difficult to criticise its lapses in logic when some of the finest disaster movies out there are even more far-fetched. Thankfully, Skyfire excels – for the most part – on the visual front. Despite some shaky effects here and there, the film’s CGI is generally excellent as the volcanic eruption births island-wide carnage on an explosive scale. Prepare to see countless unnamed hotel guests obliterated by meteoric debris and the occasional main character – listen out for the swelling strings on the score if you’re unsure whether or not you should care about their death.
But all that said, Skyfire excels where it counts. There’s no denying that the film is exciting once the volcano has erupted and the island goes into chaos. The last few years have been pretty abysmal for the disaster movie genre, with Gerard Butler starrers Greenland and Geostorm especially terrible. Skyfire on the other hand, is, if nothing else, good old-fashioned fun. There is real tension in the film’s more elaborate (if far-fetched) set-pieces, and plenty of excitement to be had in between. Despite being a veritable bingo card of disaster movie clichés, Skyfire is a solidly entertaining action thriller that will have you on the edge of your proverbial seat.