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Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

In this retro sci-fi, His Girl Friday meets War of the Worlds. While the film is an artistic feat, its story just isn't as gripping as its fantastically composed shots. Like Sky Captain's P-40 Warhawk, it runs out of gas and sputters in the most inopportune places.


In 1930s New York, Chronicle investigative reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) gets a lead on a story she's been covering about prominent scientists from around the world who are mysteriously disappearing. When Manhattan is attacked by giant robots, Polly reluctantly seeks the help of an old flame, ace aviator Captain Joseph Sullivan, aka Sky Captain (Jude Law) to get the scoop and find out who's behind these strange events, and discovers an Oppenheimer-type science man named Dr. Totenkopf has abducted the scientists in a mad bid to build a doomsday device to annihilate what he believes to be an already damned human race. Assisted by Captain Franky Cook (Angelina Jolie), who runs a secret mobile airstrip thousands of feet in the air, Sky Captain and Polly head out to stop Totenkopf and save mankind. How could such a visually dazzling film where the fate of the world rests on the shoulders of three dashing Hollywood stars be so ... unexciting? Much stronger storylines could have evolved from supporting players Dex, Sky's right-hand man (Giovanni Ribisi), and especially daredevil Franky and her amphibious squadron, all of which are used too sparingly throughout the film.


Paltrow, in the lead role of Polly, completely captures the witty, rapid-fire dialogue of the era immortalized by Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. But while her performance is nearly flawless, Polly's self-centeredness turns the would-be heroine into an antagonist; it's hard to like a character who can't put humanity's needs before her own career ambitions. Polly's rabble-rouser persona should bring some exciting tension between her character and Sky Captain's Boy Scout guise, but it doesn't--in fact there's a complete lack of chemistry between the two leads. But Law's performance as Sky Captain brilliantly matches Paltrow's, as the actor encompasses the new-yet-old type of movie hero, one more suave than macho. Less platonic, however, is the on-screen relationship between Law's Sky and Jolie's Franky. The script's purposefully ambiguous take on the characters' history adds spice to the film's otherwise bland relationships. It's too bad Jolie's performance, probably the highlight of the film, isn't brought more to the forefront. Ribisi injects some light comedy to the heavy story, and Omid Djalili impresses as Kaji, a friend of Sky Captain's who helps them during a leg of their journey to find Totenkopf. To their tremendous credit, all the cast members delivered seamless performances, especially considering all their scenes were shot in one room using a blue screen.


The production behind Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is what this film is really all about. Based on a six-minute test reel created on his home Mac, writer/director Kerry Conran was able to nab studio backing and secure major names--not shabby for one's feature debut. The final product delivers, too--a retro sci-fi picture where nearly everything onscreen except for the actors was painstakingly computer generated in post-production. It's amazing how the actors blend flawlessly into the film's animatic backdrops. Every shot makes the most of its visual effects, and the film has a dark and dramatic comic book feel, a sort of Gotham meets War of the Worlds. Conrad pays homage to literary masters such as H.G. Wells, New York's 1939 World's Fair, and films including The Wizard of Oz: Sky Captain tracks down Totenkopf like Dorothy searched for her sorcerer, and although they are not in Kansas and there is no yellow brick road, there is a mysterious genius hiding behind the curtain. But unlike Wizard of Oz, Sky Captain doesn't hold its momentum. There's a chase scene, for example, that goes on way longer than it should have and an overly weighted storyline about Polly and Sky Captain's defunct love affair. Did he cheat on her when they were together years ago? Did she sabotage his airplane? Who cares! Luckily, the ending somewhat redeems the story thanks to a couple of surprising little twists.

Bottom Line

Writer/director Kerry Conran's use of live action animation sets this movie apart from anything else recently greenlighted by Hollywood studios. But despite its brilliant visuals, the film's story, a hodgepodge of 1930s nostalgia, loses that edge-of-your-seat grip.