Published Sep 01, 2004Arriving with a ton of hype and hyperbole about how Sky Captain will reawaken every film geek's inherit (and battered) love of film, resurrecting the initial wonderment of Raiders, or Star Wars, redeeming film as we knew it and ushering in a new age of moviemaking, Sky Captain has a lot to live up to. And, for the most part, it succeeds.
First-time director Kerry Conran has created a virtual world (only the actors are real, everything else is CGI, kind of the anti-Open Water) that's breathtaking in its retro-future noir gothic look (the re-imagined late 30s Manhattan, the giant robots, the flying airfield). Instead of trying to simulate the real world and have that clash with the "actual" real world, he's fabricated one and placed actors in it, and even the actors at times look as equally hyper-stylised as their surroundings. It's like watching a comic book come to life, or the world you'd create listening to an old school radio broadcast of something like The Shadow.
But while the look and feel of Conran's world is gorgeous and enveloping, the story never quite matches its depth or beauty (and its dialogue is simplistic). Basically, it's a throwback sci-fi action adventure story indebted to years gone by: some madman is wreaking havoc on the world via giant robots and such while collecting scientists and raiding industrial complexes for some sinister purpose, only one man can stop him (Jude Law as Joe "Sky Captain," leader of a merc army), along for the ride is his plucky inventor sidekick (Giovanni Ribisi as Dex) and reporter/love interest (Gwyneth Paltrow as Polly Perkins). It's a pure good versus evil story with no ambiguity that recalls a simpler time in sci fi/action adventure.
It's clear from Conran's cinematic homage (he utilised a vast amount of retro sci-fi influences to create his world, which is familiar-looking but has never before been so well-articulated) that he wants to recreate the awe of a landmark film like The Wizard of Oz (which he references in the film via a giant electro head, played by, ahem, Laurence Olivier). And while visually he comes close, only time will determine if Sky Captain soars to its lofty ambitions despite its simplicity on the writing front or if it's just a brilliant piece of CG eye-candy. (Paramount)