When 1930s New York finds itself besieged by giant robots, only one man can come to the rescue — flying ace Joe Sullivan, aka Sky Captain (Law). Teaming up with his ex-flame, ace reporter Polly Perkins (Paltrow), he embarks on an adventure that will take him around the world — and possibly to the end of it.
Sky Captain starts as it means to go on — with the semi-destruction of Manhattan by giant flying robots. Later on, we meet giant underwater robots, giant mutated dinosaurs and the giant recreated head of Sir Laurence Olivier. It’s that kind of movie — everything but the kitchen sink’s thrown in. And even then, it would be a giant kitchen sink with laser cannons for taps.
It’s director Kerry Conran’s dream project, six years in the making, using actors shot on greenscreen and later composited into pre-rendered CG backgrounds that constitute a fusion of all his major influences, from 1930s and ’40s serials, to the Superman cartoons of the Fleischer brothers and the cityscapes of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
Sky Captain is unlike anything else in multiplexes this year. But for all the precise digital splendour of the art direction, someone left out the spontaneity and humanity. This was meant to show George Lucas how this sort of thing should be done; but Conran instead makes all the same mistakes.
Namely, he leaves the actors out to dry, suffocated by the greenscreen blanket and unaided by an awful script. As Sky Captain, a role that cries out for Our Jude’s natural brand of dangerous charm, Law is instead repressed and uncomfortable. Still, it can’t be easy acting opposite a blank canvas. Or Gwyneth Paltrow, as she’s otherwise known. For she’s spectacularly miscast here — whiny and stilted when she should be sassy, sexy, and all-action.
Which, handily enough, sums up the movie itself. Like the old serials, this tries to rocket from one action set-piece to another, but save for a couple of inspired moments, there’s little in the way of breathless excitement.
Internet fanboys have already clutched it to their portly man-bosoms, but then, this is a movie precisely calibrated, by one of their own, to appeal to them. Simply put, if giant flying robots don’t float your boat, then move along because — despite the best efforts of Conran and his technical team — there really is nothing to see here.
For its writer-director, Sky Captain was a labour of love. For almost everyone else — including the wooden cast — it’s just a labour.