Almost nothing you see is real. The buildings are fake, the trees are fake and some of the people might not even be people. They might be robots. Such is the situation you find yourself in while watching “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.”
Jude Law plays Joe, aka Sky Captain, leader of a band of freelance heroes living on a remote island. Gwyneth Paltrow plays Polly, a tomboy journalist and ex-girlfriend of Joe. When gigantic robots start stomping through New York City, crushing everything in their path and stealing materials for a doomsday device, the two grudgingly join forces to find Dr. Totenkopf, an evil mad scientist, and save the world.
Judging by the above plot summary, this movie could be pretty terrible. Luckily, it doesn’t take itself seriously. It knows the typical “save the world with your romantic interest” drivel, and it hams it up at every opportunity just to highlight how cliché the concept is. The plot and dialogue feel like they’re right out of a vintage comic book. After so many years of self-important, big-budget extravaganzas, it’s great to see a film that revels in its cheesiness.
The first movie to be filmed entirely in front of blue screens, “Sky Captain” is also somewhat historic. Because everything but the actors is computer generated, there was no limitation to what first-time writer and director Kerry Conran could do. Whether it be conjuring up a lush paradise in the middle of the Himalayas or an island filled with dinosaurs and robots, anything’s possible.
This raises an important question: Can actors be convincing when performing in a void? The answer is usually no. But, most of the cast does admirably well, especially Angelina Jolie, who has some blue-screen experience from the “Tomb Raider” movies. Though her appearance in the movie amounts to little more than a cameo, she stands out as one of the movie’s highlights. In contrast, Paltrow’s acting is as wooden as a tree.
It’s impossible to review this movie without mentioning the “Indiana Jones” franchise, its obvious predecessor. The influence is glaringly obvious, though distinct differences exist. Where Harrison Ford played a no-nonsense adventurer with the occasional witty aside, Law has a permanent smirk plastered on his face. It seems his only motivation for being a hero is the enjoyment he gets out of it. Though both the “Jones” movies and “Sky Captain” are based around the time of World War II, “Sky Captain” feels more retro. Its look is murky, like an antique photograph with color added to it. This is a contrast to the bright sharpness of the “Jones” films.
Despite its minor flaws, “Sky Captain” is a great popcorn film and the first movie in ages I hope there will be a sequel to. It took Conran a decade to make, but it was well worth it. In a time filled with overemotional drags like Spider-Man 2, it’s a thrill to see a movie as innovative and fun as this one.