There’s at least one good thing to say about the new Chinese disaster movie directed by Simon West: It doesn’t take long for the volcano to erupt. Considering the bloated running times of so many similarly styled American extravaganzas, the admirable efficiency of Skyfire means that you don’t have to waste a lot of time sitting through endless exposition.
Most of which is thoroughly familiar, anyway. The film is set on a Pacific Rim volcanic island where a typically reckless entrepreneur, John Hammond … I mean, Jack Harris (Jason Isaacs), has created a luxury resort and theme park that he describes as “the must-see destination for the selfie generation.”
A volcanic theme park … what could possibly go wrong? That’s a question that viewers will definitely not be asking since early in the proceedings Harris assures his guests, in the best Jurassic Park tradition, “There is no chance of this beast howling again for at least 150 years.”
Make that fifteen or so minutes, which is when all fiery hell breaks loose, shortly after a romantic underwater proposal scene featuring two young lovers that even Esther Williams would have deemed too cheesy. Neither Harris nor viewers can say they hadn’t been warned, since intrepid young scientist Meng Li (Hannah Quinlivan) has already set off alarm bells. And she should know, since, as we see in the film’s prologue, she watched her mother (Alice Rietveld) die in volcanic ash on the same island 20 years earlier when she was a child. The incident caused her estrangement from her volcano-expert father (veteran actor Wang Xuegi, Iron Man 3, Bodyguards and Assassins) who has reappeared to warn her of the impending danger.
Most of the film’s thankfully concise running time features suitably elaborate set pieces that, according to the filmmakers, involved no less than 20 tons of artificial ash (no worries, it was “eco-friendly and biodegradable”). Although the CGI-heavy special effects vary in effectiveness, some of the sequences are admittedly impressive, such as those involving a runaway helicopter, passengers leaping from one aerial tram to another in midair, and jeeps desperately attempting to outrun flowing lava. In any case, the action is fast-paced enough to not outlast the popcorn you should definitely be eating while watching.
West, who the film’s production notes inform us is the “only live-action director ever whose first three films grossed over “$100 million at the U.S. box-office” (those being Con Air, The General’s Daughter and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider), has decamped to China for this latest effort. The career move might be explained by the fact that his more recent output, such as Gun Shy, Stratton and Wild Card, haven’t exactly hit similar heights. In any case, he’s certainly enough of a pro to put even the film’s more outlandish moments over, and smart enough to know when to move on to the next one.
Other than being one of the earliest Chinese entries in the disaster movie genre (one has to wonder what took them so long), Skyfire is most notable for its revolving around an intrepid young heroine who prides herself on being “pretty hard to kill.” Quinlivan, who played one of the terrorists battling with Dwayne Johnson in 2018’s Skyscraper, handles her demanding physical chores expertly, which is pretty much all she’s expected to do here.
Be sure to stick around for the end credits, featuring behind-the-scenes footage and a music video for a new song sung by Quinlivan’s husband, Chinese pop star Jay Chou. Because, why not?
Production companies: Meridian Entertainment, Base FX, Gosdom Entertainment, Production Capital
Distributor: Screen media
Cast: Jason Isaacs, Wang Xueqi Wang, Hannah Quinlivan, Shayn Dou, Shi Liang, Alice Rietveld
Director: Simon West
Screenwriters: Wei Bu, Sidney King
Producers: Chris Bremble, Jennifer Dong, Jib Polhemus, Emma Shan Wang
Executive producers: Jennifer Dong, Fu Ruoqing, John Hughes, Jacob Li, Kevin Robl, Aaron Shershow, Dai Siyuan, Tong Zhou
Director of photography: Alan Caudilo
Production designer: Paul Kirby
Editor: Paul Martin Smith
Composer: Pinar Toprak
Costume designer: Vera Chow
Casting: Zi Cang