Movies — Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (PG)

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

by Amy Diaz

The world is on the brink of destruction as giant robots attack cities across the globe—our only hope is a heroic fighter pilot and a sassy reporter who must uncover the secret of the mysterious Dr. Totenkopf in the dazzling! thrilling! amazing! Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

What amazes most in this 10-cent-novel-like action-adventure noir? How about the fact that an entire movie can indeed be shot against a blue screen without looking annoyingly cartoony and fake (I’m looking at you, George Lucas, with your most recent two Star Wars movies)? Or maybe it’s that the golly-shucks language and the 1940s sci-fi effects aren’t just cheesy-fun, they actually work? Or how about the amazingly good job Laurence Olivier does playing the villain, despite the rather significant handicap of being dead for 15 years?

Welcome to the pulpy World of Tomorrow! Well, tomorrow as imagined in a gritty, colorized, pre-war, yet-slightly-ominous-seeming 1939-ish era. A tomorrow where the scoop-seeking Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) still types out her late-breaking-news stories for the newspaper the Chronicle on an Underwood. She’s hot on the case of some missing scientists and runs off to Radio City Music Hall (during a screening of The Wizard of Oz no less) to meet with a fearful man who believes he may be the next to vanish. Before Perkins can question him too much, but after he leaves behind a few helpful clues, he runs off. Perkins chases him into the streets of Manhattan just as an air raid siren goes off and the sky darkens with a squad of flying robots. They land and stomp through the city on their way to, what, exactly, Polly’s not sure, but she takes pictures all the same, even at peril of being squished. Of course, just when it looks like she’s about to become just a stain on a robot’s foot, in flies the dashing Sky Captain, a.k.a. Joe Sullivan (Jude Law), a sort of James Bond-without-borders who protects the earth from all manner of dastardliness with American know-how and British swagger.

With Sky Captain now also on the case of the mystery robots, Polly tries to convince him to team up with her. He’s not entirely trusting—they once had a bit of a thing but it ended badly, possibly with his cheating on her and possibly with her sabotaging his plane. But the lure of her, er, clues is too strong and Sky Captain agrees they’ll work together. A bit of digging around and some technical help from the geeky charmer Dex (Giovanni Ribisi) leads them to Tibet and the search for Dr. Totenkopf (Olivier), a WWI-era German scientist with dark desires to destroy the earth. To reach the evil genius’ secret lair, Sky Captain enlists the help of Franky (Angelina Jolie), a sassy fighter who rivals Polly for Joe’s affections.

You know, action is easy and it’s everywhere. All you need is some explosives, a car chase and an actor who can pull off at least one decent fistfight. Sure, good action requires a bit more finesse, nuance and smarts and even action of the Jerry Bruckheimer variety seems to make up for what it lacks in those areas with incredible scope. But, as movie categories go, action is relatively easy to come by.

Adventure is a bit more difficult. Adventure requires a bit more in the way of suspension of disbelief. It requires a dialing down of the irony and a revving up of the optimism, the willingness to be amazed and astounded. It requires its audience to give itself over wholly to the tale being told and to trust that the movie’s journey will lead someplace exciting and satisfying.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow embraces adventure completely. Flying robots, evil scientists, superhero-like world-savers, a newspaper that would foot the bill for a reporter’s trip to Tibet—nothing but crazy talk in our world, but in the Sky Captain world none of this seems out of place. This is the plucky world of His Girl Friday and Buck Rogers, of comic books and pulp fiction, of muted hazy colors that nonetheless produces vibrant visuals. The characters banter while they fight, grin as the situation darkens and never let their imminent deaths cloud their optimism.

The golly-jeepers-ness sucks you in entirely. The marvel at technique and cinematography can’t stand up to all the cools and wows and this-is-so-awesome-giggles created by the result. Like a rollercoaster ride though the best of 1940s B-movies, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a retro-flavored, thrill-laced good time.

- Amy Diaz 

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