Well, admittedly writer-director Kerry Conran’s Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow — which I finally caught on Sunday afternoon — doesn’t look much like a film shot in a tiny blue room, but, lordy, it sure as heck feels like it. Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Michael Gambon…they’re all fine enough in other situations. But, alas, pretty much everyone here, with the possible exceptions of Giovanni Ribisi, Bai Ling (who doesn’t speak), and the dead Lawrence Olivier, have contracted Portmanitis, and what considerable acting chops they usually possess have been sucked into the CGI machines and spat back out as a deathly dull flatness.
I don’t blame the cast, though. Because, however pretty the movie looks on occasion, the upshot is Sky Captain is as terribly written as Stephen Sommer’s ghastly Van Helsing this past summer. Seriously, this film makes zero sense whatsoever – the scenes of robots, planes, flying carriers, etc. just pile up on each other with no underlying sense of plot or development. Meanwhile, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow are forced to deliver C-movie boilerplate that would’ve seem dated in Buster Crabbe’s day. I know we’ve reached an age where visual effects technology can spruce up even the lamest of tales, but still…I just don’t understand how a script this bad makes it out of Quality Control.
Perhaps to compensate for the wooden script, Conran packs his film chock-full of genre homages and fanboy cues, and one would think these would help alleviate the boredom. But, to be honest, they came so thick and so hamhandedly that even I, who usually has a high tolerance for this type of in-joke, started to feel beaten down by them. Oh, look, Metropolis, The Iron Giant, Office 1138, the SS Venture, Indy, Dagobah, Shangri-La as Rivendell…no, wait, Naboo…by the end of it, Sky Captain seemed less a full-fledged film than a 120 minute attempt to impress Harry Knowles. (Apparently, it worked. Harry is producing Conran’s next film (sigh), A Princess of Mars.)
As with Van Helsing, arguing that Sky Captain is a nod to the serials of the 1930’s is really no excuse. So was Raiders of the Lost Ark or even a B-movie like Big Trouble in Little China, and they held together a lot better than this overstuffed claptrap. In sum, the view out Sky Captain’s cockpit may be oh-so-pretty and genrefied, but the story here is strictly World of Yesterday.