“Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” uses new-fangled filmmaking to deliver old-fashioned storytelling.

“Sky Captain,” which opens nationwide today, hearkens back to what we used to think the future would be. It beautifully tells the story of how Captain Joe Sullivan (Jude Law), also known as Sky Captain, joins forces with reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) to stop mad scientist Dr. Totenkopf from destroying the world.


Writer-director Kerry Conran photographed the actors entirely against a bluescreen, then filled in all other details digitally. “Sky Captain,” with its 2,000 effects shots, is more than just a cinematic landmark. It’s actually a lot of fun.


In some ways, the film is a lot like Steven Spielberg’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” as both pay tribute to the serial action films of the 1930s and 1940s. But “Sky Captain” feels more like a comic book than “Raiders.”


There’s no wasted scenery in this movie. With lots of establishing shots—to give a spectacular sense of scale—and lots of inserts—to render that comic-book feel—each frame is precise.


“Sky Captain” is awash in intense light and shadow. Grays and metals permeate its frames. It has robots, ray guns and radio towers. Characters say “Shazam,” not the other s-word. And it’s a straight-up, honest-to-goodness PG film to boot.


Yet, the visuals don’t dazzle so much as they rest easy on the eyes. This reveals an oft-overlooked fact in today’s Hollywood: It can actually be an advantage to have a movie—something that’s make-believe—actually feel a bit make-believe. There’s nothing wrong with realism, but it’s just as delightful to have the hint of pretend ring your imagination as surely as the soft white light around Gwyneth’s gold locks.


Speaking of Gwyneth, she was the perfect choice for spunky reporter Polly Perkins, who’s actually Sky Captain’s old flame. Paltrow and Law make a good couple, and their chemistry really boils when Angelina Jolie’s Franky Cook, captain of an amphibious squadron, enters the picture. It seems Franky had a fling with Joe too.


“Sky Captain” transports viewers from the streets of New York City—where the film begins as the Hindenberg III docks atop the Empire State building—to the Himalayas, where Joe and Polly hope to discover the evil genius intent on destroying the planet.


There’s no question that the wit punctuates the action better in the last half of the movie. It’s almost as if the script doesn’t find its dialogical footing until halfway through. But it’s a pleasure to watch a movie actually become funnier, and better.


“Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” offers good acting, a fairly solid script, and some amazing technology. These components add up to an old-fashioned movie-going experience—and a reminder of how magical the movies can be.


Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.

MPAA Rating: PG for sequences of stylized sci-fi violence and brief mild language. Reviewer’s Note: A remarkably tame movie to be so full of adventure.

Director: Kerry Conran

Writer: Kerry Conran

Cast: Joe “Sky Captain” Sullivan: Jude Law; Polly Perkins: Gwyneth Paltrow; Dex Dearborn: Giovanni Ribisi; Franky Cook: Angelina Jolie.


The movie’s official Web site is here.

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