Friday 1 June 2012

Film: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)

What a strange film this is! It is set in an alternative 1939 in which mercenary fighter pilot "Sky Captain" Joe Sullivan (Jude Law) apparently defends New York single-handedly while an evil scientist called Totenkopf (well, who wouldn't be evil given a name like that?) is plotting the end of the world.

After flying robots kidnap his geeky assistant and leave a trail of destruction through New York, Sullivan, accompanied by former girlfiend and persistent reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) flies to Nepal in his Curtis P-40 (which incidentally can fly underwater…don't ask) in search of the origin of the robots. There they are aided by another of Sullivan's former girlfriends, played by a decidedly kinky Angelina Jolie - in skin-tight black leather with an eye-patch to match - as the commander of a huge British flying aircraft carrier (I told you, don't ask!) as they try to thwart Totenkopf's plans.

I find it hard to know what to make of all this. The silly plot seems straight from an adolescent 1930s comic strip and the acting is unrealistic - it could hardly be otherwise, as they try to recreate a make-believe Biggles-like world in which handsome heroes and their debonaire girlfriends stroll into terrible danger with a light-hearted quip and are completely unflappable whatever happens. The result is that the actors don't appear to be taking it at all seriously and the whole film basically seems to be a spoof, although there's no obvious humour in it (apart from Paltrow's reactions when she finds out about Jolie…).

On the upside, it looks terrific with a wonderful 1930s feel packed with Art Deco iconography, although the heavy sepia tinting makes some of it hard to see. The "advanced technology" reminds me of Bruce McCall's humorous drawings of fantasy ships, aircraft, cars and buildings of the period (collected in his book Zany Afternoons - one of my favourites).

Essentially, the film has huge style but very little substance. Is it worth watching? I'm still trying to work that out. I expect that this is one which some people will love and others hate, although having said that, I'm somewhere in the middle. I gather it failed at the box office despite good reviews, but I can imagine it acquiring minor cult status in the future.


Chimeradave said...

In my mind the reason why this one flopped is because it got a reputation for depending too heavily on the "green screen." I haven't seen this one, but it reminds me of the Star Wars prequels and how those films were so bland because they never went to real locations.

Fred said...

I saw the film and thought its strongest point was the '30s feel to it. It seemed to unite the comic book adventure with the Saturday afternoon serials at the movie theaters.

I kept waiting for the chapter break and the message to come back next Saturday for the next chapter.

The color was comic book again, as was the '30s technology which reminded me also of the sf/f mag covers from the '30s and '40s.

The attraction, for me anyway, was the "feel" of the film and not characterization or plot.

Anthony G Williams said...

Chimeradave, I didn't notice that problem. Maybe it was more of an issue on the big screen than on TV.

Agreed, Fred, it has a great period feel. Do you know McCall's work? I think you'd enjoy it.

Jim Black said...

I liked it as a fun pulp adventure film. Sometimes I enjoy a mindless movie. I could definitely understand someone not liking it. It is not a film for everyone.