Skyfire (2019)

Rating: B

Dir: Simon West
Star: Hannah Quinlivan, Wang Xueqi, Jason Isaacs, Ma Xinmo

I suspect this was inspired by the global success of The Meg, which was a Chinese co-production, but a global hit. However, it had the misfortune to receive a Chinese release at the end of 2019, and for obvious reasons, never reached Western cinemas to any degree. It’s a shame because, while it doesn’t do much that’s new, as disaster porn goes, this very much… goes. West has a fine handle on the spectacular, having previously directed the likes of Con Air and The Expendables 2. [Fun fact: he also directed the video for Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up] The budget here, though likely well short of comparable Hollywood product, is up to the job of large-scale particle physics mayhem.

We start with the traditional prologue, where Meng Li loses her vulcanologist mother to a pyroclastic flow on the island of Ting-Hao. Decades later, Western businessman Jack Harris (Isaacs) has built a resort on the island – basically, think Jurassic Park with volcanos. Meng (Quinlivan) is now estranged from her father Wentao (Wang), and works on the island researching its structure. Then Wentao shows up and tells his daughter she must leave, because the volcano is about to erupt again. Naturally, this kicks off just as a group of investors are getting the tour from Harris’s wife, Qianwei (Ma). Cue the race to evacuate the resort, save a nearby local village, and escape the island, all while the “monster” lobs giant fireballs and lava at the characters. 

Despite the funding, this was filmed in Malaysia, and shot twice, in Chinese and English. Though weirdly, it’s a dubbed into English (save for Isaacs) version of the former which is on Tubi. This doesn’t harm things, because we’re not exactly talking David Mamet level dialogue here. Besides, the volcano gets to voice its own lines, and that’s what matters: West said, “There’s a lot of scary animal noises remixed and sampled to give the volcano personality.” Maybe he should have done that for the humans too, though that’s absolutely par for the course. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s Harris who gets the film’s most poignant scene, rescuing a stray Chinese moppet, then refusing to be evacuated himself, because Qianwei is still missing. 

I suspect West’s presence helped rein in the jingoism sometimes seen in big-budget Chinese films. Instead, this knows we are here for the fiery carnage, and it is delivered with style and energy, across a series of set-pieces that mostly border on the ludicrous. I must say, Chinese cable-cars are really well-made, capable of plummeting from a mountain while travelling at high speed, without damaging the passengers inside. I was also impressed with the new, lava-resistant Jeeps. Tesla could learn a thing or two there, I reckon. It all makes for a big slab of entertaining nonsense, with few pretensions beyond being exactly that. Initially intended as the first in a trilogy, I’m a bit sad it appears further entries will now never come to pass.