SKY CAPTAINand the WORLD OF TOMORROW MOVIE REVIEW
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A SIERRA NEVADA
(MICHAEL MADSEN & JOHN SAVAGE).
There's the city. There's a Graf Zeppelin, Hindenberg III, which can only mean that the Germans came clean about the destruction of the first Hindenberg being due to highly flammable chemicals used to dope the skin of the zeppelin, and not some backwash about the Hydrogen causing such a conflagration. Clearly this is an alternate history movie.
We are treated to a scene where the Hindenberg docks. An elderly man is aboard and he appears troubled. He gives a note to one of the stewards, asking the young man to deliver it. It's a cry for help.
Now we visit the massive building with a massive lobby into which walks chipper - yet city-wise - newspaper reporter, Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow: SE7EN, THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY). Polly types on her typewriter in her massive office (how massive? It's larger than some mansions) and we are treated to a huge backdrop of moving type. The back of her office becomes what she does. She writes stories and they get front page. Despite the fact that Polly and everyone and everything in this movie looks hand tinted with a favor toward sepia tone, it works and is captivating as well. At this point I am wondering where the first time Director, Kerry Conran, is taking us. It looks like fun and I'm ready to go.
Polly gets the note and meets a frightened man, Dr. Walter Jennings (Trevor Baxter: THE BODY SNATCHER [TV], FEET FOREMOST [TV]) the scientist from the blimp. He reveals that, 30 years ago, 6 scientists worked in Germany on an "unspeakable project" for a very evil man, Dr. Totenkopf. The news of the day is that 5 renown scientists world wide have been kidnapped. Nobody knows why but everyone is pretty sure who: The Attackers.
Dr. Willams is terribly frightened and Polly is too dim to understand why, so he spells it out for her. "Don't you see? I am the sixth scientist!"
At that moment, the air raid sirens go off.
From the sky comes dark forms, stopping the citizens in their tracks. Suddenly the city is under siege and perky Polly Perkins is reckless enough to get right under foot of the towering behemoth robots that come from the sky and march along the city streets. She tears her skirt for better speed and runs between their strides, not even attempting to run for safety. Polly wants her story and her photographs. The robots tear hell out of everything in their path.
Wow! These robots! I mean, I've seriously and always wanted to see scenes like this in a movie! Giant robots resolutely striding through New York City!
This looks like a job for Sky Captain and the call goes out. Sky Captain comes roaring out of the skies in his fighter plane, ready to do battles of derring do.
Unfortunately, there isn't much a single plane can do against a mob of monster robots. He defeats one handily, but the rest get away.
In the aftermath of the attack, and they've been going on world wide, Joe 'Sky Captain' Sullivan (Jude Law: eXistenZ, LEMONY SNICKET'S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY) returns to his rather public lair, just over the mountains (!) of New York City, where there is an incredible airbase of - again - retro/future technology.
Here we meet the inventor that makes all of this possible. His name is Dex Dearborn (Giovanni Ribisi: THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, THE GIFT) and from the moment we meet him, and throughout the movie, we come to understand that Dex is the kind of extraordinary genius that would have Einstein and Hawking as mere lab assistants. For Dex not only thinks through phenomenally difficult feats of science, he can engineer and invent the machines that can overcome those roadblocks. Dex's inventions created a brave new future far and above anything Edison ever dreamed of. For this, he gets a "Good boy, Dex!" from Captain Joe.
If this movie was a high speed auto it just went skidding off the road.
Understand that Dex isn't rich or famous, he's only extraordinarily intelligent and cunningly brave (instead of foolishly brave). Throughout this film Dex does courageous things that even sends Captain Joe running for his plane. But Sky Captain is handsome and gets the girl. He gets all the girls. Even the one-eyed girls. Dex don't care. All he wants in life is to hear a "Good boy, Dex!" from his Sky Captain.
Because he's so god damn good, he hears it an awful lot.
I thought back to all of the movies SKY CAPTAIN and the WORLD of TOMORROW references in its tone and plot. I remember an awful lot of "Good man!"
Dex gets a Good boy. You get the feeling that Joe Sullivan thinks of Dex as his pet dog or something even though Dex is clearly braver, smarter, and tougher than he!
In short, the hero of this movie is woefully misplaced, as anything fascinating and exciting is going to happen with intelligent and heroic Dex, not thousands of frames of Captain Joe sitting in his plane and looking intense.
The movie begins to weigh down with the start of a cleverless bickering contest between Polly and Joe. Seems they have a history together and with Polly riding in his plane, Joe has a hard time doing anything heroic. But how they bicker! The movie bickering could and should have snappy dialogue like that found between, say, Indiana Jones and Marion, but it doesn't. Polly gets whiny and Joe gets distracted - from all the cool stuff outside of his plane!
The story is outside of Joe's plane, not in it. Dex is engaging with an enemy who may be able to match him in technological prowess, which means giant robots and who knows what else, against everything that Dex could have up his sleeve!
Yet we're stuck with Joe and Polly in a trivial pissing match.
Meanwhile, Dex braves the heavy onslaught of another wave of giant robots, led by the mysterious woman in black (Ling Bai: THE CROW, THE BREED), and though he puts up a tenaciously brave fight, Dex is captured - or perhaps killed. There have been all kinds of merry mishaps occurring up to now, but here is where the plot takes a turn and the story begins. Joe has to rescue Dex and stop the evil Dr. Totenkopf.
So this is the future of another path. More fantasy fictions than science fiction, but all can be forgiven. After all, everything is a monstrous size because miniaturization hasn't happened yet. The world is a marvelous place.
Ah yes. A wonderful place of technology both primitive and far in advance of our own. A world where there are only two races on the earth: Caucasians and Asians.
All the Caucasians are heroic and, for the first time, having a British accent doesn't make you evil. It makes you stoic! Having a German accent doesn't make you evil, it makes you very smart, though easily led astray. Being an American makes you smart and heroic but it won't get you the girl. I know that Joe Sullivan is supposed to be American, but Jude Law, an otherwise excellent actor, kept slipping into his English accent and Director Conran forgot to pull him back out.
As Joe and Polly travel the world trying to track down Dr. Totenkopf (thanks to Dex's ingenious tracking and directions. Good boy, Dex!), we meet Capt. Francesca 'Franky' Cook (Angelina Jolie: THE BONE COLLECTOR, LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER). She runs a British aircraft carrier fleet of the sky: Massive, prop driven aircraft carriers that tool around above the clouds and out of sight of the world below. They are top secret and yes, still more of Dex's many inventions!
Dr. Totenkopf, an eco-terrorist, must be destroyed before he destroys the world. Never fear! SKY CAPTAIN is on the job, though muddled by the constant harping of Polly Perkins.
There are some excellent scenes and moments that will blow you away in SKY CAPTAIN. They are all cgi special effects, but no less amazing for it, even with the SFX savvy audiences of today.
The fact that only white folks are good people will wear away at you, though, especially when you get the tubby Arab who is there for comedy relief and the insidious Asians. This especially comes home if, as I was, you are with a group of your friends and many of them are Asian. Several squirmy moments there.
When Star Wars came out, it all took place a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. You could believe that, with all the thousands of inhabited planets out there, some may have only white folks. I mean, there were so many aliens to choose from anyway. The token black guy came in the second movie but that was passable too.
When RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK came out, the "Egyptian" man was comedy relief, but he was also smart, brave, and quick - saving Indiana's life a number of times. The Black African sea Captain was also a good guy. The Nazi's were the bad guys but not all the white folks were bad. The one lone French guy was also bad, but ... not all the white folks were bad.
What I'm saying here is, You walk out of the movie feeling a little creeped that SKY CAPTAIN and the WORLD OF TOMORROW depicts a world of Hindenbergs, German Scientists, no dawn of a World War (or the evil that propagated it), and a world of righteous, intelligent white folks. All the non-whites - all of them - fall into the categories of unkempt and comical, untrustworthy, or downright murderous. But this isn't a galaxy far, far away: it's supposed to be earth. But it's like watching a movie that would have been made if the Third Reich won.
Yet SKY CAPTAIN and the WORLD of TOMORROW has so many great things going for it. Such retro/history movies have been attempted before - THE ROCKETEER for example - but never with such verve and on such a grand scale. But you don't have to be a bleeding heart to walk away with a bad taste in your mouth, or even if you are a Redneck Goth like myself. If the movie goes into sequels, I'm sure they'll toss a "Lando Calrissian" type in there for the second one. Although, this being the 21st Century, you'd think we were finally past the age of tokenism.
Despite its greater promise, it gets a Three Shriek Girl.
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