REVIEW SUMMARY: A technically marvelous film that, nevertheless, doesn’t quite live up to the hype.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An evil madman (is there any other kind?) is bent on world destruction. Its up to Sky Captain and Polly Perkins to find him and stop his evil scheme before time runs out.
PROS: Mimics the look and feel of 1930s and 40s serials perfectly. Lots and lots of retro-future eye candy and some really interesting ideas.
CONS: Non-engaging characters. Antagonists presence is almost non-existent. Derivative plot. Forgettable music.
BOTTOM LINE: Sky Captain is a worthwhile movie to see in the theaters. It looks great and is still a fun movie for all its faults. This one’s a DVD purchase for sure!
I guess I should never look at another movie trailer ever again. I don’t think Sky Captain could have ever lived up to my expectations from seeing just the trailers. Oh, don’t get me wrong, its a fun movie, a definite must-see, but it still falls short of greatness, a victim of the personal hype-machine. I’m going to steer clear of a re-hash of the plot and instead concentrate on my impressions of the movie. First, the good.
Sky Captain is meant to be a throwback to the days of the 1930-40s pulp science fiction serials. It does this wonderfully. The fim itself was shot in color, washed out to black and white, then had sepia tones put back in to give it a noir-ish look and feel. Additionally, the tropes of the pulps are used as well. Things like the spinning newspapers, the crowd reaction shots, and the dialogue all evoke the fun (and campiness) of the old serials. In fact, I’d say the technical aspects of the film are its greatest strength. It looks great and there was only one shot where I could really tell that CGI was used. The rest of the time the process of ‘pulpizing’ the movie served to blend the CGI and live action seamlessly.
The second thing Sky Captain has going for it is its ideas and their translation onto the big screen. There really is nothing new here: two types of giant robots, submersible airplanes, attack planes that flap their wings to fly, really big-a$$ flying airstrips, etc. But they’ve never looked better. All the ideas, all the machinery, everything is exceptionally well done. I never thought to myself, “Wow, that was cheesy”. Conran, the director, has obviously spent a lot of time thinking about the props in this film and it shows. Also, there are a lot of homages to a bunch of different movies thrown in. John even spotted a THX-1138 reference, we think.
If there’s one thing keeping this movie from being great, its the characters. Sci Fi was running all three Indiana Jones movies today and it struck me how easily Spielberg created the loveable rogue of Indy while including all the action and adventure you could want (including Nazis!). Of course, Spielberg at that stage in his career was a more established director than Conran is now. I never really felt much of anything towards the main protagonists (Sky Captain and Polly) and their characters are pretty much two dimensional, although there is a huge hint that they’ve been involved before. It seems that Conran was going for a Bogey/Bacall or Grant/Hepburn feel. Although there were moments where sparks tried to fly between Law and Paltrow, for the most part it seemed to me there wasn’t enough chemistry there, as if their chemistry is of the kitchen set variety. Another knock is the fact that Sir Lawrence Olivier ‘plays’ Totenkopf, the evil mastermind behind the robot scourge. I thought it clever the way Conran works him in at the end, but that’s the only time we see him. For the rest of the film, he’s used almost like an evil McGuffin. I would have preferred a truly evil villain to have a lot of screen time, with opportunities to act completely over-the-top as required by this type of film. A disappointment in the end. The characterizations knock of 1 star.
Another half-point is knocked off for two things. The plot itself is nothing new. The situations the characters find themselves in aren’t vastly different from what we’ve seen before. And the story has a few places where things happen solely to advance the plot and to make way for the next action scene (not that the action isn’t great, ’cause it is). One place in particular I had to say, “Oh, that’s convenient!”. Second, I found the music to be forgettable. I felt it was trying too hard to evoke the time period and the motifs needed for the action on the screen. And, to me, there was nothing catchy about it. I think John Williams should have had a crack at the score.
But for all of its faults, I never once looked at my watch to see what time it was. That’s a sure sign of good film for me! I recommend it to anyone with an interest in SF, pulp or otherwise. Just don’t expect it to live up to bar set by Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it comes within shouting distance.