Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow

2004, Movie, PG, 107 mins


First-time filmmaker Kerry Conran's rapturous homage to golden-age pulp fantasies is an extraordinary technical achievement: With the exception of the actors and certain props — chairs, filing cabinets, cameras — every image was computer generated. But if it were only that, the film would be a soulless exercise in whiz-kid proficiency. Instead, it's like watching the movie that fired your childhood imagination and, rather than finding it diminished in the cold light of sophisticated adult sensibilities, discovering that it's every bit as magical as you remembered. Set in an idealized 1930s that never existed outside the movies, it revolves around the disappearance of several scientists, all of whom once worked on the same top-secret project. Ace girl reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) is on the case when an armada of flying robots invades New York, and a call goes out to fearless flyboy Joe Sullivan (Jude Law), aka "Sky Captain." Most of the robots escape, but Sullivan captures one and hauls it back to his island hideaway and hands it off to his trusty sidekick Dex Dearborn (Giovanni Ribisi), whose idea of fun is whipping up a heat-emitting ray gun out of spare parts. Before all's right with the world again, Dex is kidnapped, Sullivan has gone mano-a-mano with a mysterious woman in black (Bai Ling) and Sullivan's globe-trotting quest for truth has narrowed to the search for Totenkopf, a scientific prodigy who turned his genius to evil ends. Accompanied by Polly and aided by no-nonsense secret agent Franky Cook (Angelina Jolie, who inhabits her top-girl part as though to the manner born), Sullivan braves hostile terrain, duplicitous allies, killer machines (it's a toss up as to whether the flying bat-bots or the metal-tentacled automata are the coolest) and Laurence Olivier, resurrected through the miracle of mechanical memory. Crammed with dirigibles, glittering skyscrapers and gleaming rocket ships, the film's visual influences range from KING KONG (1933) and THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) to THINGS TO COME (1936) and METROPOLIS (1927), with a heavy dose of comic book and pulp sci-fi magazine imagery. But it's not a string of visual appropriations; it's a glorious distillation of yesterday's tomorrows through the eyes of someone thoroughly besotted by their glorious optimism. The cast play their parts straight and snappy, surrendering modern-day mannerisms to the conventions of classic B-movie performance without looking camp. Rendered in a slightly soft, silvery palette that's more than B&W and less than living color, it's a dream of a movie from which a certain kind of movie lover will never want to awake. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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