Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow Review
After New York City is attacked by enormous flying robots, reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) teams up with flying ace Joe ‘Sky Captain’ Sullivan (a dashing Jude Law, channelling Errol Flynn) to figure out their origins – and whether this is connected to the mysterious disappearance of famous scientists around the world. Ten years in the making, Sky Captain is a beautiful tribute to the boy’s own adventure school of novels, comics and movies of the 1930s.
Investigative journalist Polly Perkins… never mind about that! Sky Captain isn’t really about the plot. Cute girl reporter and dashing pilot team up to save the world from mad scientist; so far, so predictable. What is brilliant and dazzling and FUN about Sky Captain is the look of it and the fabulous details. Director Kerry Conran and his team succeed in creating a film which, Janus-like, simultaneously looks to the past and to the future and succeeds in making the old look new. Sky Captain was largely created using CGI, with the actors performing against blue screens in a studio, and the results could have been at best a curiosity, an interesting experiment; at worst, a George Lucas style CG fest of dullness and dead-eyed performances. Against all odds, Sky Captain is much more: a glorious visual treat and a jolly good romp.
Its a bit slow getting started, and the characters are somewhat clichéd: plucky, annoying gal-reporter; heroic, manly pilot; boffin/sidekick. But somehow none of it really matters – its just nit-picking. The film is infectiously energetic; once it gets past the early exposition (who cares?!) and into the dogfights, it transports you to this joyfully fantastical world where nothing is too outlandish or odd to put on the screen. A miniature elephant trapped in a jar; dinosaurs; mechanical and real pterodactyls; a quick trip to Shangri-La; as everything was created digitally, one effect is no more expensive or difficult to achieve than another, so why not have them all?
The script adds some nicely humanizing detail, which saves the characters from being totally overwhelmed by the gorgeousness of the art direction. Joe swigs from a bottle of Milk of Magnesia kept in his drawer; he and Polly have a romantic history, also involving sexy pilot Franky Cook (Angelina Jolie, with hilariously, almost ludicrously clipped BBC tones), and bicker constantly in the style of Grant and Russell in ‘His Girl Friday’. Conran clearly knows his movie history, and Sky Captain is steeped in references to the classic matinees of the 20s and 30s, from Bringing Up Baby to King Kong via Metropolis and The Lost World.
Sky Captain is not going to be as popular as the Indiana Jones films, and CGI-phobes may hate it. It is, however, almost deranged in its imaginative scope and overwhelmingly lovely to look at, and will appeal to the 12 year old boy inside…
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