Retro Review: Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow

During the age of the motion picture serial, people of all ages would flock to cinemas to catch the next chapter of their favorite hero’s latest adventure. Their admiration went to epic pulp heroes like “Tarzan”, “Flash Gordon”, “Buck Rogers”, “Commander Cody” and of course “The Masked Marvel”. This golden age of action-adventure paved the way for literally hundreds of other motion picture heroes in the years to come.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” is homage to those pioneers with the help of modern day technology. The film opens with the disappearance of the world’s premiere scientists and newspaper reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) is on the case.

Just as Perkins is about to break her story, New York City is invaded by an onslaught of mechanical beings that wage war upon the city and seem to be focused on one particular mission.

The city looks to the heavens for a hero to save the day. That hero happens to be flying-ace for hire, Sky Captain (Jude Law). Like Superman, Sky Captain screams out of the clouds above and into the fray. How can one man stop this army of menacing beings? What is Sky Captain’s connection to Polly Perkins?

For Sky Captain to save the world he will have to look to the aid of his friends, mechanical wizard Dex Dearborn (Giovanni Ribisi) and fellow flying ace, Franky Cook (Angelina Jolie) of the Royal Air Force.

Once he has his allies assembled can they uncover who is behind this sinister plot before it is too late?

When you first look into the world of “Sky Captain”, you can’t help but compare it to the likes of those old ingenious Max and Dave Fleischer Superman cartoons of the 1940s. The rich textures, heavy noir shadowing, invading giant robots and a mad scientist bent on ruling the world are all vintage Fleischer. Then you have throwbacks to so many other epic serials of the same period like the classic that the film becomes a feast of the past.

There are so many clever and magical moments throughout the film that at times it is hard to soak it all in.

It is difficult to look past the film’s presentation and see what lurks beneath its brilliant execution. But the film’s simplistic storyline is something modern audiences probably won’t appreciate.

Storylines from the serials were utterly simplistic to the point where you had one man in a black hat and another in a white hat.

The film probably could have used a deeper approach with more fleshing out of characters and more supporting players but it would have probably ruined the illusion of the era it was trying represent. So in that case it is a “catch 22”, if you will.

The illusion is also maintained in the performances of the film’s award winning stars. Paltrow’s performance as Perkins is probably seen as weak but if you look at it as part of the whole film’s presentation it is actually quite brilliant because that is the way classic female characters of that era, like Lois Lane, were portrayed. The same goes for Law as the epic pulp hero. The only exception might be Jolie’s female commander. In the serials of the 1940s, her character probably would have been male.

Of the three, my favorite performance was that of Law who seemed born to play the role of a classic pulp hero. He reminded me so much of Buster Crabbe, William Forrest and even some of Van Williams from the 1960s TV Series, “The Green Hornet”.

“Sky Captain” is a brilliant reminder of what the past loved so much about science-fiction and how its innocent portrayal made for so many memorable moments.

4.5 out of 5

So Says the Soothsayer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s