The world of tomorrow was yesterday’s dream.
Today’s that tomorrow, or so it would seem.
Today’s not exactly what yesterday guessed,
But thinking dystopian, maybe that’s best.
Today has its own dreams of what’s on its way
But also thinks fondly about yesterday.
Today is a mess; maybe if we combine
Tomorrow and yesterday, all will be fine.
MPAA rating: PG
Some films are just unlike any other. The weird thing about Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is that it’s both utterly unique and yet reminiscent of many other movies before it and since. It’s an unusual blend of the futuristic and the retro, which offers the same kind of entertaining, if not particularly deep, gusto as a pulp magazine from 80+ years ago.
Of course, unlike those magazines or comics, Sky Captain puts its visuals in motion with a distinctly retro, sort of noir visual style, which most reminded me of those Superman cartoons from the 1930s. Shadows are at stark angles, the colors are muted almost to sepia and black-and-white, montages have semi-transparent scenes playing over each other, and many shots have a balanced composition resembling an old war poster. Added to all of this are special effects that, created in 2004, manage to be both well-visualized and just that slightly bit cheesy, minus the extra polish that they would have if made today. Yet the fact that nearly all of the actors’ surroundings are CGI is quite impressive and not immediately obvious. So many films these days end up looking like something else, even if it’s unintentional or trying to be somewhat different (think Pacific Rim vs. Transformers), yet it would take a lot of effort to make anything resembling Sky Captain’s visual flair.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a hodgepodge of genres and story elements from sources ranging from Indiana Jones to those same Superman cartoons I mentioned. Jude Law plays the titular Captain Joe Sullivan, whose tricked-out plane is called in to stop giant robots attacking New York City, while Gwyneth Paltrow is Polly Perkins, a Lois Lane-ish intrepid reporter seeking her next big story. Together, they investigate a worldwide conspiracy that is making famous scientists disappear as part of some unknown master plan by a man called Totenkopf (Laurence Olivier, or rather his likeness since he died in 1989).
Like I said, I was reminded of many films while watching this one, making me wonder why I hadn’t bothered to see it sooner. It’s hard not to think of Salah in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Joe and Polly rendezvous with an old friend to visit Shangri-La, and Sky Captain himself is like an airborne Indy, as his womanizing ways and bickering chemistry with Polly indicate. Yet I was even more stunned by the fact that I was reminded of films that came out after this one and must have drawn some inspiration from it. Angelina Jolie shows up as an old flame of Joe’s, but tell me she’s not a touchstone for Nick Fury when she wears an eyepatch and captains a helicarrier from a bridge that even resembles the one from The Avengers.
More shocking still for me was how similar Sky Captain was to April and the Extraordinary World, a new favorite animated film I praised for its originality just last month. The story just holds too many parallels: a World War II-era setting with unusually advanced technology, famed scientists being mysteriously abducted, a jungle-set climax with a rocket that has more or less the exact same purpose in both films. I can’t say my opinion of April has diminished, but I must admit that it’s not quite as original as I thought. I suppose Sky Captain has absorbed my appreciation in that regard, even if I still like April more.
With my rambling on about uniqueness and originality, I don’t know if this review has made it clear or not, but I highly enjoyed Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. If you can buy into its stylistic distinctiveness, there’s plenty of high-flying, largely family-friendly adventure to be had from its genre blending. As the first film to be (almost) completely shot on blue screen, Sky Captain was clearly a labor of love for director Kerry Conran and remains his only feature film. It is indeed something of a novelty item, as many reviews have called it, but it’s still quite an entertaining one.
Best line: (I’d rather not say since it gives away a major plot point.)
Rank: List-Worthy (tied with April and the Extraordinary World)
© 2018 S.G. Liput
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