Directed, badly written, & beautifully designed by Kerry Conran, if the whole of Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow (2004) had been as amazing as that long opening sequence with the giant robots & dirigibles & art deco cityscapes, what a fantabulous classic of science fiction kitsch this would've been.
The first fifteen or twenty minutes of this film deserve extravagant praise for some of the most beautiful almost-real animation ever committed to film.
Everything between the first vision of the Hindenberg III, & the tumbling of the first giant robot, is awesome, & the rest of the film periodically not too bad visually, though never again the equal of the beginning.
But plotwise it is mediocre throughout, & character-wise it is inferior. If brave & competent Franky (Angelina Jolie) had been the female lead instead of that badly-trained-inbred-cocker-spaniel Pretty Polly (Gwyneth Paltrow), it might just have skirted by on characterization.
And if Giovanni Ribisi had played Captain Joe Sullivan, & Jude Law played Dax, that might've spiced things up too. But Paltrow & Law as leading lady & leading man are bland as bland gets.
There's nothing wrong with Jude in some pictures. He's often quite good & was outstanding as the vampire in The Wisdom of Crocodiles (1998) & as Lord Alfred Douglas in Wilde (1997).
Jude also deserves a few ass-kickings for doing nothing that could possibly save such lame films as Alfie (2004) or Sleuth (2007), projects so bad they make one wonder if his great work is all long in the past.
Certainly he brought no convinction to the role of Sky Captain, perhaps because the script gave him so little to work with, & he didn't even have sets to work in, given that the human actors had to do all their work in front of bluescreens. But Ribisi, too few people realize, is a great actor (see his work in, for great example, Heaven, 2002), & he just might've been hungry enough to put his all into this thin role, & made it credible.
The film too swiftly petered out & never regained the initial beauty & momentum. I enjoyed it despite that the originality & elegance of the robot sequence did make the "mere" CGI of the rest of the film awfully disappointing, with human performers as phony as the FX. Behind all the computer generated imagery, as with so many CGI-dominated films, there was simply no story worth telling.
The incompetent script's excuse must must've been that it was cribbed from numerous Saturday matinee serials of the 1930s & 1940s, such as were never notable for plot or continuity.
When one scene makes a big to-do of why the Polly's & the Captain's clothing had to be destroyed & they had no other clothing of their own, but a couple scenes later they're back in the original costumes, you just know that nobody cared that the script was half-assed.
Incorporating numerous in-joke references to earlier films sometimes works, often doesn't. It occasionally turns the film into a film-fan's "spot the references" puzzle, throwing the viewer completely outside of any chance at experiencing the modicum of suspense this dumb story drums up.
The sequence with archival footage of Lawrence Olivier as the Great Oz was particularly stupid, followed by the same Krell gangplank set from Forbidden Planet that Star Wars already copied. Placing such a concentration of stolen bits at the climax made the film end on a particularly unoriginal note even for its vaunted visual design.
In other cases, such as swiping the costume from the French silent serial Les Vampire for the Mysterious Robot Girl (Bing Lai), we had an effective theft.
But then Conran goes overboard & has her additionally reproduce Bruce Lee & Matrix maneuvers that left one wondering if she was next going to do the Crane stance from Karate Kid.
Bing Lai's character was in general a recurring teasing promise of excitement to come, a promise that never paid off in the story.
Didn't help that the male & female leads were so unlikeably annoying. Did anyone really care if the relationship between Jude Law & Gwyneth Paltrow worked out or not? The only possible pleasing outcome would have been if they just killed each other slowly with penknives.
Using that computer-altered archive footage of Sir Laurence Olivier to reveal that the super-mastermind criminal was actually the Wizard of Oz suggested that Kerry Conran must've written the story when he was almost twelve & never thought it needed a heavy rewrite to bring it up to an age sixteen level.
So no wonder the love story more resembled the hate relationship between some soon-to-be-divorced suburban mom & dad, as that's probably the only model Conran had ever observed when he was twelve locking himself in his room drawing pictures of angry robots.
During the short visit to Shangri-la the computer graphics for the lost city in Darkest Tibet are quite nice, though nothing of consequence happens during the visit, & the Great Oz already killed all but two of the inhabitants before our hero & his cocker spaniel girlfriend even got there, so we never see the Lost City as more than a mat painting, entirely static save for animated waterfalls reminiscent of those moving-water beer-ad wall-lights in dark taverns.
Without a heroic figure center stage -- & Jude Law still seems like he is always playing Oscar Wilde's butt-buddy Lord Alfred Douglas, certainly not an ace fighter pilot -- the cartoon FX had no human figure to justify such a pointless light show. The only time the film almost got interesting again was when Bai Ling as the mysterious metal woman was on screen.
Trying to rewrite this lame story so that it would be totally cool, I'd've had the emotionally ugly Pretty Polly kill the moronic Sky Captain just before she slipped & busted her head open on a buffet, then the begoggled Mysterious Metal woman would save Captain Franky Cook from her demise, & the two of them would finish taking over the world together. At least then it'd all be a good joke instead of such a bad one.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl