The Triumph of Style?

From start to finish, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, fills the screen with beautiful images sculpted of light and texture in the style of old swashbuckling adventure movies. Although I fall increasingly in love with these luxurious visuals, the thought keeps nagging at me: I'm bored.

Like Kill Bill, the style is the substance, and that's something I can appreciate, but leaves me feeling empty, like the proverbial Chinese meal...

Minimally, the film is consistent. Every element, from the images and soundtrack, to characters and plot, is drawn upon a particular ideal of storytelling. We have the fearless hero, Sky Captain (Jude Law), the principled reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow), an obsessive gadget-maker (Giovanni Ribisi), and some old crusty scientists. Good and evil are clear and well defined around our heros and the robots that are invading cities all over the world.

The number of visual references to other films is amazing. In some cases, it's even tricky to identify the reference. Jurassic Park or King Kong? Indiana Jones or The Day the Earth Stood Still? People will generally recognize the more recent references rather than the old ones those were based on. I'd love to see a deep analysis of the stylistic parentage of this film. Any takers?

It's all a shame because of the weakness of the story. I see how they got there, using the prototypes of these kinds of characters in this sort of situation. I kept waiting for someone to do something - anything - interesting. The best we get are jokes, admittedly cute, but still so true to this film's particular style, we are left no with no doubt what actually has priority here. Even Angelina Jolie's character - the British Captain Cook - with her eyepatch and steely, um, eye... is so watered down, her barely-there presence belies the original intentions of the character, so prominent in the advertising campaign.

I think Sky Captain is worth it just to soak in the luxury of these images, but don't sit down expecting anything more substantial than cotton candy.

* * * spoiler * * *

There's a bit of a goody-two-shoes feel to the whole of the film, a lack of any real human struggle or ambiguity. The film really undercuts itself by revealing that Dr. Totenkopf - the man behind these dastardly robots - died long ago and our heros have been fighting a completely unguided menace. The threat is reduced to a series of mechanical exercises. The integrity of an actor's performance aside, I'm fairly pleased that they used the late Lawrence Olivier for the recordings of Totenkopf. There's something appropriate about it here, though I'd rather not see another classic actor dragged out of permanent retirement for a commercial. Geez.

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