Robots with frickin’ laser beams in odd sci-fi adventure

4/5 stars

In a more technologically advanced 1930s America, driven reporter Polly Perkins has stumbled onto a very large story. By large, of course, I mean sky-scraper-sized laser spewing robots of destruction that steal resources before disappearing to parts unknown. The world looks to be in dire straits thanks to the work of the malevolent and enigmatic Dr. Totenkopf until the call goes out for ace pilot Joe “Sky Captain” Sullivan and his souped up squadron. From the urban jungle of New York to the exotic slopes of Tibet, Joe and Polly jet across the globe in a literal race against time.

Let me begin by saying that “Sky Captain” is one of the oddest movies I have seen. It could be considered mainstream due to its stars (Jude Law as Joe and Gwyneth Paltrow as Polly) or cult (it has borrowed from classic 1940s adventure flicks). It flitters between honoring its predecessors with straight-up drama (or melodrama) and an almost mocking tone. Does it work? Read on!

For a film that was filmed completely with blue screen, I bought into the special effects. If the great directors who inspired George Lucas and Steven Spielberg and company had the digital technology to shoot action like this film, the 1930s and 1940s flicks would have looked just like this. The marauding robots look like they leapt right from “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and the general settings have a classical feel. It was an odd moment seeing Polly watch “The Wizard of Oz” at Radio City Music Hall – kudos to reviewing a movie that pays homage to classics from that time period while having a reporter watching a movie that will one day become a classic.

The story is a basic world-in-peril one that has been rehashed a thousand times over. Let’s just say the giant-robots-built-by-kidnapped-scientists is a plot from scriptwriting 101. Why would we want to see it again, right? Answer: because unlike other films that tried to add their own spin on the old Buck Rogers-era stories, “Sky Captain” incorporates these textbook stories. This film does not try to be anything more than what it is – an homage to the ‘good old days’ when the good guys squared off with the bad guys and it all worked out in the end.

This story couldn’t have worked without as infinitely cool a character as Joe Sullivan. Law is just the man to pull this off, and I’ve been waiting for years for him to do something just like this – he has the classic good looks, voice and attitude for an action hero. While the Sky Captain isn’t developed any more than a typical comic book character (you know he’s the best and that he’s had relationships with Polly and Angelina Jolie’s character Captain Franky Cook – and that’s it), Law’s delivery of sarcastic barbs come across as genuine frustration.

Part of that frustration comes from Paltrow’s Polly. I simultaneously loved and hated her Lois Lane-esque character. Polly can be cute one scene with innocent eye rolls and subtle flirting and verbal sparring – and incredibly annoying the next (being secretive is one thing, but who honestly withholds information when the world is in crisis?). Some of her dialogue makes you ask aloud ‘Who talks like that?’ or ‘Thanks Captain Obvious!’. So Paltrow is hit-and-miss throughout the movie.

One thing I loved about the film was that the scenes flowed. Characters were not just thrown in – they had significance. Giovanni Ribisi’s tech wiz character Dex could have been the stereotypical sidekick with shiny toys to provide. Instead, Dex is used as a motivational asset for Joe and provides him with not only shiny toys that would make James Bond drool, but also useful information using science. Jolie’s Franky, likewise, could have been a throwaway rescuer. Instead, Jolie makes the most of her 10 minutes of screen time – we meet a snarky girl with resources who isn’t afraid to dish it back to Joe. Here’s hoping the prequel/sequel that the studio has discussed will feature more of Jolie.

The mark of a good movie, in my eyes, is if I am able to allow myself to be stitched into the film. “Sky Captain”, with its all-CGI environment, could have easily yanked me out of my reverie. The strange blend of James Bond technology with a 1930s world could also have popped my mental daydreams. And yet, I bought into Law’s absurd, the-world-is-ending-and-I-don’t-care banter and Paltrow’s na?ve investigating and the kitschy sci-fi fantasy adventure. Honoring the years of Flash Gordon, Superman and Buck Rogers, paying tribute to Star Wars and Indiana Jones, “Sky Captain” has enough of an epic-feel to come off as honest and fresh. If you’re looking for an entertaining, fast-paced noir with plenty of one-liners or a fun love-and-adventure story with inventive filmmaking, take flight and see “Sky Captain.”