Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

© 2004 Ray Wong

With its art deco, noir style and straightforward storytelling, SKY CAPTAIN is a throwback of the comics in the 30s and 40s: Superman, the Rocketeer, etc. What sets this apart is the injection of state-of-the-art special effects and a painting-like world that is unlike anything we have seen before.

The story begins when a scientist mysteriously disappears onboard the Hindenburg. Reporter Polly Perkins, while investigating the story, discovers that a Dr. Tokenkopf might be behind the kidnapping of some of the world’s finest scientists.

Just then, giant flying robots appear from nowhere and terrorize Gotham City. Paired with Joseph “Sky Captain” Sullivan, they track down Dr. Tokenkopf’s secret island and must stop him from decimating the world.

That’s it. It’s a very simple premise, worthy of any sci-fi adventure. Almost every ingredient is in the mix: a spunky heroine, a dashing hero, an evil nemesis, a mysterious henchman, plausible science and a grand dose of fantasy and action. Writer-director Conran calls it “a film made by the nerds and for the nerds.” Fortunately, it’s also a film that everyone can enjoy.

Conran is our new Peter Jackson here. According to the story behind the making of SKY CAPTAIN, Conran spent four years of his life on a Mac coming up with six minutes of test footage. Without a Hollywood connection and armed with only six minutes of film and a grand vision, he managed to impress everyone along the way, including Law who signed on to be both the star and producer, and secure a $70 million budget – unheard of for a first-time director.

Law (COLD MOUNTAIN) is perfect in the title role. He’s dashing, he is self-deprecating, and he’s courageous. Paltrow (Sylvia) also does a great job bringing to life her Lois Lane-like character. The love-hate relationship between her and Law is funny and real, and they share some of the best banters. Reunited after their tour de force collaboration in THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, Law and Paltrow continue to have great chemistry together. Ribisi (COLD MOUNTAIN) and Djalili (TV’s WHOOPI) are solid in their minion roles. Ling Bai (ANNA AND THE KING) doesn’t have much to do, hiding under a hood and acting cold and mean. There’s an interesting cameo by the late Sir Lawrence Olivier, composed by a series of archived footage. Despite stellar performances from Law and Paltrow, Jolie (TAKING LIVES) steals the film from them. Her characterization of the smart and loyal Captain Franky Cook is beautiful and crowd-pleasing, probably one of the best characters in an action-adventure film.

A combination of Superman, Indiana Jones and Buck Rogers, SKY CAPTAIN puts us back in a world where the good is good and the bad is mad. There’s a simple pleasure of watching a story unfold so purely, an almost child-like fascination. From the Indiana Jones-like musical score and the comic book look, we know we’re in for a treat. The script is smart, nothing too outrageous or strange (although I do find the “miniature elephant” oddly out of place).

However, the bad guys are always in the shadow so we only get to see things through our heroes’ perspective. That’s one drawback of the film: It feels somewhat too linear and distant. Also, even with all the action going on, there’s a lingering sense of “it’s still not exciting enough.” Perhaps it’s the languid pace between the action scenes, or the overall noir feel of the film.

The art direction and production are top-notch, however. Every frame looks like a painting and is gorgeous to behold. The retro, sepia-saturated look does take a bit to get used to. After a while, we do get somewhat weary of it. Fortunately, the screen gets brighter and livelier as the adventure speeds up. The comic-book feel works to its advantage. Except for the actors and the props they touch, everything is created by CGI or from archive photos. Some people may object to the feeling of watching a live-action “cartoon.” I personally love the look and feel, and the CG effects are first rate. It could very well be a new breed of films, one that is fitting for a world of tomorrow.

Stars: Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Giovanni Ribisi, Ling Bai, Omid Djalili
Director: Kerry Conran
Writer: Kerry Conran
Distributor: Paramount
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for comic-style violence


Script – 8
Performance – 8
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 9
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 8
Production – 10

Total Score – 8.2 out of 10

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