There is much to admire in Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow and the computer-generated landscape of the late 1930s world it evokes. Sadly there is far, far more to lament.
From the first time we see New York in all its gothic glory, ‘filmed’ in harsh, sepia-tinted near black and white – all brutal sky-scrapers and hard lines, it’s captivating. Writer/director Kerry Conran has audaciously created a whole CGI world from the depths of his mind. With more than 2000 effects shots, this feature uses live action filmed against blue screen and fills in every frame detail digitally after the completion of principal photography. It took six years to make, and is easy to see why.
A zeppelin docks alongside the Empire State Building and an elderly scientist onboard kicks off the plot and intrigue. Then, we’re introduced to hotshot reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow), hot on the trail of a group of missing scientists and who soon finds herself in the thick of a swarm of giant, flying robots set to take over the world.
The only person who can help is daredevil Joe ‘Sky Captain’ Sullivan (Jude Law) who, you guessed it – is an old flame of Perkins. So far, so stereotypically Hollywood. Cue a mission to save an old friend captured by the militant robots, snare that story and call on a few old friends for help. Oh, and save the world.
The plot is so full of holes and the writing so risible – save a few witty one-liners between Law and Paltrow – that admiration for the film quickly evaporates and you’re left wondering a) how much longer can this continue and b) how many films can Conran blatantly rip off and shoddily slip in to his own fantasy world?
Watch out for references/scene stealers straight from Batman, Wizard of Oz, Jurassic Park and James Bond, as well as a wealth of pulp fiction and American Marvel comics.
Let’s start with the plot. Yes, saving the world seems to come second to saving their friends, to the extent that Paltrow’s dozy reporter hands over vital materials without a second nod. And there’s only so many times you can watch her dash back in to death-defying situations to grab her camera (Indiana Jones and his hat, perhaps?)
Then there’s the robots – too little is made of why they are invading until the end of the film, when Conran tries to tie up too many tangled threads with an all-encompassing 30 second explanation. Also, an episode which takes the intrepid duo to Nepal does little to move the action further or fulfill their primary aim for being in the region at all. It could have, and probably should have, been cut.
The film’s bright spot is the all too short appearance of its third star Angelina Jolie. She plays to perfection Francesca ‘Franky’ Cook, another old flame of Sky Captain’s and all-round action gal, the archingly ‘prim’ Brit commander of a secret in-air Naval base. She crackles with a hidden coarseness that’s a pleasure to watch.
But then we’re back to the quest for mad scientist Totenkopf and a trail through a Jurassic Park-styled world and a couple more flabby plot turns. Still, the ending is quick and painless.
This film was made on the basis of an ‘unbelievable’ film short from Conran. Given the resulting feature-length feature perhaps it should have stayed that way – or he be given a tried and tested script editor to whittle away the dead-wood.
True, it looks beautiful, from the show-stealing CGI backgrounds to the facially-blessed Paltrow, Jolie and Law (particularly pretty in his flying cap) and outfits designed by Stella McCartney – but that’s not enough to sustain. Ultimately Sky Captain disappoints, which is a shame: it could have been so much more.