SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW(director/writer: Kerry Conran; cinematographer: Eric Adkins; editor: Sabrina Plisco; music: Ed Shearmur; cast: Gwyneth Paltrow (Polly Perkins), Jude Law (Joe “Sky Captain” Sullivan), Giovanni Ribisi (Dex Dearborn), Michael Gambon (Editor Morris Paley), Trevor Baxter (Dr. Jennings), Bai Ling (Mysterious Woman), Omid Djalili (Kaji), Angelina Jolie (Franky Cook), Laurence Olivier (Dr. Totenkopf); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Jon Avnet/Sadie Frost/Jude Law/Marsha Oglesby; Paramount Pictures; 2004)
“The robotic acting is a reminder of how stiff the acting was in those throwback serial chapter films.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
First-time director and writer Kerry Conran used no sets as he put the actors before blank screens and then worked his digital magic on the screen. The result is an ultra-modern slickly done high-tech, art deco, special-effects film set in 1939, that steals its narrative and visions from a number of sci-fi films, pulp fiction books and those old-fashioned matinee serial chapters. Recognizable are scenarios from when the Hindenburg 111 cruised over NYC to land on the Empire State Building and from films such as King Kong, Star Wars, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and the Dr. Mabuse series, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Sky King TV series and numerous other pulp-like films. This derivative film is a wall-to-wall CGI action thriller–a gorgeous comic book movie that is pleasing to look at but the narrative draws a blank as far as depth, the dialogue lacks wit, and the robotic acting is a reminder of how stiff the acting was in those throwback serial chapter films.
The story revolves around the mysterious disappearance of a number of the world’s most respected scientists, who all worked on a secret pre-World War I project called Unit 11 headed by a Dr. Totenkopf. The ambitious Lois Lane-like reporter of Gotham City’s prestigious Chronicle, Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow), gets a call to meet in Radio City Music Hall with a scientist afraid he’s next in line to be eliminated. While The Wizard of Oz is on the screen Polly learns from scientist Dr. Jennings that the evil Dr. Totenkopf is behind the scientists’ disappearances and he must be stopped before he destroys the world. The tall, sexy blonde leaves the theater because of an air raid and on the street she witnesses an attack in Manhattan of flying giant machines and tries to take photos but is nearly stomped to death as the robots march through the streets. She’s rescued by her handsome former adventurer boyfriend Joe “Sky Captain” Sullivan (Jude Law), who is in the Errol Flynn role of the macho flying ace. With his brainy bubble-gum chewing techie partner Dex (Giovanni Ribisi ), who invents a number of cutting-edge gadgets, the dynamic duo fight the bad guys and keep the city safe from these repeated mysterious robot attacks.
When the reluctant Sky Captain agrees to let Polly tag along in his mission to save the world, after she convinces him that she has vital info about the scientific experiments, they soon visit Jennings’ lab and discover he was attacked by Totenkopf’s assassin (Bai Ling). Before he croaks he lays two mysterious vials on Polly and tells her to guard these with her life, as that is why the scientists are being hunted down and as soon as Totenkopf gets it he will destroy the old world to build a new one (Don’t ask me why they don’t destroy the vials!). Returning to the airbase, Sky Captain and Polly discover it has been wrecked and that Dex has been kidnapped by the assassin. Dex was able to clue them in that he was taken to Nepal, in a remote spot near where the Tibetans believe is their Shangri-La.
The heart of the film consists of Sky Captain and Polly as adventurers to a remote Asian spot and their endless bickering as would-be lovers, that continues throughout even though it was never funny. What’s more the lovers have no chemistry between them so their lover’s spat was not only witless and tacky, but seemed out of place. Angelina Jolie as Franky Cook, appears as a daredevil pilot wearing a black-eye patch and a tight-fitting flying suit (something the Village People would don), who is a British commander of a remote Asian outpost who helps Sky Captain, her former boyfriend, track down the head villain.
Since I found the action scenes tedious, supposedly the film’s strong suit, there was no hope for me seeing the possible good to all this eye candy computer work as a new type of Indian Jones adventure film. But if I was 12 again and watching it as a Saturday matinee serial in my local theater, I might have a different attitude.
REVIEWED ON 9/20/2004 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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