Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Fans of old comic books, B-movie serials and ’40s film noir will resonate with Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, a retro-cool sci-fi adventure set in 1939. Earth’s leading scientists are disappearing as the mysterious Dr. Totenkopf hunts for an elusive pair of vials. What do they contain? And what’s their connection to seven scientists who had been hand-picked to work in a secret facility near Berlin prior to WWI? Brassy newspaperwoman Polly Perkins (think Lois Lane-meets-Veronica Lake) intends to find out.
As dirigibles and roving spotlights crisscross the New York City sky, giant flying robots invade the bustling metropolis. It’s Joe “Sky Captain” Sullivan to the rescue! Like Indiana Jones in flight goggles and a bomber jacket, he swoops down in his tricked-out P-40 Tomahawk and saves the headstrong Polly’s neck—apparently not for the first time. The two share a stormy history. Still, Polly’s journalistic quest compels her to reconnect with Joe and his sidekick, Dex, who invents gadgets for Joe the way Q outfits 007. When space-age fighter planes decimate their air base, the bickering Joe and Polly find themselves thrust into a globe-trotting odyssey to piece together the “marauding robots” puzzle, rescue Dex and ultimately save the world.
Joe is a selfless pilot who races into action whenever he gets a distress call. He bravely takes to the air alone to battle scores of enemy aircraft, races to save his kidnapped pal, and risks life and limb to protect Polly. He even surrenders his weapon (and for all intents and purposes his own life) to keep a bad guy from killing her. Other characters also model loyalty and friendship. With his post under attack, Dex refuses to evacuate until he deciphers critical information for Joe.
Polly’s editor cares more for her safety than landing a big story. A selfless, dangerous maneuver by a military captain saves Joe and Polly from certain death. Lines condemn hatred and suggest that humankind be more responsible stewards of God’s creation. Putting their entire adventure into perspective, Polly decides that Joe is more important to her than career advancement.
There’s a brief mention of Tibetan magic and people possessing supernatural powers. The dialogue also includes references to Adam and Eve, Noah’s ark and the Garden of Eden. [Spoiler Warning] A megalomaniac obsessed with starting a new civilization in outer space has a God complex and quotes from the Genesis account of Noah.
A pal of Joe's (Kaji) makes a crass, subtitled remark about cold nipples. Although there’s no specific mention of any sexual history, it’s clear that Joe is a ladies’ man willing to see one woman behind another’s back. After being knocked out by an explosion, Polly, Joe and Kaji awake in bed together after having been relieved of their uranium-contaminated clothing (talk of nakedness; nothing shown).
The only violent human death occurs when a booby trap electrocutes a scientist, reducing him to a pile of bones. Joe stumbles on a rotting human corpse. A man holds a knife to Polly’s throat. A mutated victim of genetic experiments asks Joe to put him out of his misery. Lots of bloodless action violence includes hand-to-hand combat, wiping out enemy planes and disabling robots with missiles, ray guns, a pistol, etc.
Huge robots march through the streets of New York, kicking and crushing cars in their path. Buildings crumble. Police fire machine guns at the mindless machines, which are apparently on a mission to gather materials, not hurt people. Dex is trapped under falling debris. Joe pulls a gun on Polly in anger with no real intention of using it. An android fights with Joe and gets battered by Polly. Squadrons of enemy planes attack military facilities. Trying to keep the persistent Polly from following him on a suicide mission, Joe knocks her out with a punch “for her own good.” She later belts him as payback.
Crude or Profane Language
Ten profanities restricted to “h---,” “d--n” and exclamations of “my god.”
Drug and Alcohol Content
None, which is refreshingly anachronistic since many film heroes of that era drank liquor or smoked cigarettes, ignorant of the danger. The movie has fun playing off of that convention by having a distraught Joe retreat to his office and produce a shot glass, which he promptly fills with Milk of Magnesia.
Other Negative Elements
Polly admits that she lies sometimes. She and Joe share a love-hate relationship built on a foundation of deceit and distrust. Since neither repents or apologizes, their attraction seems perilously immature.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow isn’t exactly Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it tries hard and succeeds more often than you might expect. It’s a nifty action adventure with a dynamic visual style and less objectionable material than even those Indy flicks.
Star Jude Law was eager to play the titular hero for the same reason families and film buffs will cheer him. He told Entertainment Weekly, “I just thought it was about time someone took us back to a science-fiction genre that’s without cynicism, that’s more innocent and optimistic.” From its over-the-top, soaring musical score to angst-free characters we can take at face value, Sky Captain reminds us of how Hollywood viewed America before the age of al-Qaeda or, for that matter, even ’50s Cold War paranoia. Things were more black and white back then ... including our movies. Consequently color (or the suppression of it) plays a big role here.
In 1990 Dick Tracy placed heroic gumshoe Warren Beatty in a garishly hued comic book world. That film traded heavily on its bold visual style. Sky Captain flies a similar mission, but instead of a loud, vivid palette, this feature stresses sparse sepia tones in an attempt to capture the feel of old movies, then injects strategic bursts of color. Equal parts Raymond Chandler, H.G. Wells, Fritz Lang and Edgar Rice-Burroughs, its retro images and settings are wonderfully diverse. A noir New York City robot invasion. Aerial dogfights. An undersea battle against mechanized sentries. A megalomaniac’s futuristic lair. There’s even a classic B-movie serial moment in the snow-covered mountains of Tibet involving a room full of clearly labeled dynamite and a slow fuse. I enjoyed venturing to so many different locales, each infused with subtle bits of mood-altering color rationed out so that it never gets taken for granted.
Sky Captain’s plot and characters are equally fun if intentionally lightweight—just like in the old-fashioned serials that inspired them. Solid performances and cool roller-coaster thrills keep things interesting. But at the end of the day this movie will succeed or fail based on how audiences react to its unusual cinematography. I liked it, though I must admit the novelty wore off after the first ten minutes and I had to make a conscious decision to accept Conran’s minimalist style on its own terms and go with it. I wasn’t disappointed. Sky Captain really is a work of art that, thanks to its PG rating, will be accessible to a lot more viewers.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Jude Law as Joe “Sky Captain” Sullivan; Gwyneth Paltrow as Polly Perkins; Angelina Jolie as Capt. Franky Cook; Giovanni Ribisi as Dex Dearborn; Omid Djalili as Kaji; Michael Gambon as Morris Paley; archive footage of Sir Lawrence Olivier as Dr. Totenkopf
Kerry Conran ( )