Rejoice at a film that pays homage to all the great science fiction serials and does it with the newest moviemaking technologies available. Too bad it stuck so rigidly to the source material that many “mundanes” won’t be able to get past it.
In a fictional New York City set in 1939, the Hindenberg III docks to the top of the Empire State Building on a snowy evening. When a nervous scientist onboard sends word that his life is in danger, reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) learns of a fiendish plot involving someone named “Totenkopf.” Soon after in the dark skies above, giant robots appear and land on the city streets, intent on stealing underground generators and menacing the populace. The cry for help goes out, and Sky Captain (Jude Law) and his mercenary army answers the call…
The world of Sky Captain is what the late 1930s would be like in it was infused with Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Flash Gordon serials, and the world of Max Fleischer’s Superman cartoons. What if the Hindenberg hadn’t crashed? What if technology surpassed our own seventy years earlier? What if giant robots as tall as skyscrapers were real and innocence remained in the face of almost certain global annihilation? (okay, that last part was wishful thinking.) The look, the feel, and the thinking of a time that never existed but everyone imagined all belong in The World of Tomorrow.
Now for a quick tangent. For viewers who’ve ever watched the 1998 Gus Van Saint-directed shot-for-shot remake of Psycho, the film seemed mostly pointless for everyone who’d seen the original; for those who had never seen the original Psycho before, the characters just didn’t fit for this day and age (not to mention what audiences expect in their modern-day thrillers). The story and characters in Sky Captain have this inherit flaw: to be authentic to the time period and the films of the time period, the characters have a nearly platonic relationship with one another and a near innocence about them. Unlike the characters from the movie Pleasantville, whose monochromatic characters become more “colorful” as they mature in the film, it’s the point of Sky Captain‘s characters NOT to be. This can be a problem for modern audiences that find these kinds of characters and their relationships benign, boring, or just unrealistic.
For the rest of us, you get giant robot action, mythical secret locations, underwater combats, air battles launched from flying aircraft carriers, cool gadgets all around, and Angelina Jolie in a tight uniform with an eyepatch. Sky Captain also borrows from the best (even working The Wizard of Oz into the film as well, showing at Radio City Music Hall which it never did in real life). Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow hold their own (especially since they had no real sets to work from or off of), and an appearance by one of our favorite character actors, Omid Djalili (Britain’s only Iranian stand-up comedian), is always welcome. Giovanni Ribisi (as gadgeteer Dex Dearborn) is wonderfully less annoying than usual, and Ling Bai (as The Mysterious Woman) is as deadly as she is mysterious!
This may have been writer / director Kerry Conran’s first effort, but he’s created a sure-fire cult hit regardless of the final box office tally; with luck it’ll get some love from Oscar(TM). This, of course, will come as a complete surprise to the producers who backed the film finacially (“Wait a sec… this isn’t a film for everyone to enjoy? And we paid HOW much?”) And, as does not need to be rehashed here, nearly the entire film was realized digitally save for the actors and their costumes. So yeah, it’s a geek film, and there’s plenty for happy geeks to love, including the dead man behind the curtain (watch it, you’ll get it).
(a three skull recommendation out of four)