"Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow" *** 1\2 (out of ****)
If you would have told me 10 years ago that a movie like "Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow" (2004) could be made today I would have laughed at you. How would modern Hollywood be able to reproduce the sensibilities and charm of classic Hollywood? Where would the talent come from? It doesn't seem to exist anymore. For the most part that is definitely true but boy, does "Sky Captain" sure give it the good ol' college try!
"Sky Captain" is really a movie for us old timers. Those of us who grew up watching all those classic 1930s and 40s movie serials. If you don't know what a movie serial is, you are probably at a disadvantage. Those of us who remember watching serials like "Flash Gordon" (1936), "The Green Hornet" (1940) or "Batman" (1943) will get a kick out of this. "Sky Captain" will take us back to our childhood. You will sit there and be amazed at the world filmmaker Kerry Conran (making his debut) has created for us.
The plot is pretty goofy, but, it is really just an excuse I believe to show us all the pretty visuals and throw tons of charm and nostalgia our way. We are in 1939 New York. An army of giant robots have been invading New York for the past three years. Sky Captain (Jude Law) has been trying to figure out who is in control of these robots and what do they want. One day ace reporter, Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow), don't you just love that name, reports on a missing scientist. One of several. Information is given to her about a hit list of scientist who are being rounded up by a Dr. Totenkopf (Lawrence Olivier!), to complete an experiment he first started 20 years ago, during WW1. Now it is up to Polly and Sky Captain to track down Dr. Totenkopf and stop his diabolical plan.
Along the way we discover that Polly and Sky Captain (AKA Joe Sullivan) were once a couple. They have not spoken for years because the Captain suspects Polly sabotaged his plane during a flight. She suspected him of cheating on her with a fellow female pilot, Franky (Angelina Jolie).
Polly and Sky Captain's adventures takes them to Nepal, where they even have time to visit Shangri-La. They encounter a world where prehistoric animals roam. Danger lurks at every corner. You can almost imagine an announcer informing us to tune in next week to find out if our heroes will survive.
You either will go along on this fantasy adventure or reject it. By and large the American public chose to reject it. The film did awful box-office, grossing a little more than $37 million. On the website imdb.com the film has scored a low grade of six. And the critics didn't respond well to it either. One review I read which ran in USA Today felt the film was too much technology and no enough heart. The film was all style over substance. Maybe. But, that was kind of the point I feel. Funny, you can say the same about several of these latest comic book movies which are released but the fan boys go in droves to see them. Several ignorant "film critics" even try to find social commentaries in them. If we are able to extend such kindness towards Spider-Man and Batman why couldn't we extend it to "Sky Captain"?
Kerry Conran must have loved these old-fashion adventures. The movie recalls several classic films. We think of "Metropolis" (1927) looking at a futuristic city and the architecture. The classic "King Kong" (1933) comes to mind when we see the world where prehistoric animals are alive. When in Shangri-La we think of Frank Capra's classic "Lost Horizon" (1937) and "She" (1935), which I have reviewed. If you can catch on to these references the film will most likely work for you.
And I haven't said a word about the technology. Everything in the film was created digitally. The actors are standing in front of a blue screen. As I understand it, only a few sets where created. But even with all of this modern technology the film still has an old-fashion look to it. It resembles a world us old timers can fondly recall.
As I said yes, the plot is a little goofy. Could it have use some more twist and turns? Sure. Something to raise the stakes a bit. But, this is where charm and likability become a factory. I simply had too much fun watching this to care about a weak plot. The movie was a sentimental journey for me.
If you are able to put yourself under the film's spell, you will be amply rewarded.
p.s. I find the film's tagline "The world will tremble this September" in very poor taste. It reminds us of 9/11. There was no need for that.