I suspect one of the reasons why “Sky Captain” failed to bring in any money and make any profits was because a movie such as this only appeals to a certain audience. Director-writer Kerry Conran is a lover of old serials and comic books, so when he created Sky Captain in 1998, he had in mind only a certain audience for the movie. Also, it was poorly advertised, but aside from that, there’s an exclusive audience who loves pulp novels and serials, and yes, I’m one of them. I love it all; serials, pulp superheroes, comic books, and anyone who loves either of these genres will appreciate “Sky Captain” as I did. Taking nearly ten years to make, this was a personal project for Conran who hit a basic luck streak casting people such as Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow on its bill. But great casting is only one of this film’s main achievements.
What “Sky Captain” succeeds in is pure wonder, wonder that I haven’t had in years watching movies, wonder that I haven’t had since watching “Indiana Jones” for the first time when I was a kid. Conran, a lover of pulp comics creates his own pulp superhero epic with “Sky Captain” and manages to share an incredible vision and tells a great underrated story of adventure. “Sky Captain” is just a lot of fun to watch; it’s innocent, wholesome fun with a lot of brains to it that kids and adults will love to watch. Much of the action will appeal to the younger boys while adults will get the references. I saw echoes of many genre favorites like “The Wizard of Oz” which becomes a central theme of the story, as well as taking elements from “Flash Gordon”, “Indiana Jones”, and the old Max Fleischer Superman serials which fans will recognize elements from the episode “Mechanical Monsters”, including the giant walking robots and the death rays which they use as weapons.
Sky Captain is a great character and we anticipate his arrival from the beginning as Conran sets the tension high as we follow reporter Polly Perkins hard at work reporting the disappearances of scientist, giant robots and airplanes are destroying cities around the world stealing generators for a mysterious project, and after Sky Captain’s sidekick Dex is kidnapped by the robots, he must locate the man behind the attacks Dr. Totenkopf and destroy his secret base. I really loved this movie simply for the amazing sights brought to us by Conran who gives an amazing vision of a world both futuristic and of the past. Set in the thirties in a skyscraper covered city of the future, Conran knows his material, because there were so many obscure and mainstream references with characters that appeared as if they’d been lifted off a thirties film reel. I was stunned at the level of excitement from the very beginning from the old news reel opening, right down to hazy old fashioned noir atmosphere, I was like a little kid watching his first action film just enjoying what was happening before my eyes.
A lot of it is very exciting taking Sky Captain to many lands in just under two hours, from the city, to the jungle, to Shangri-la, to Uranium mines, we really get a sense of adventure from the beginning and none of it is ever boring. Conran approaches his material with a wide-eyed exuberance of a child taking his film seriously. This could have gone really bad really quickly, becoming campy and cheesy such as past films like “The Shadow” and “The Phantom”, but it’s the right formula. I grew up reading science fiction comic books like “SHIELD” and watching adventure serials like the old Max Fleischer superman cartoons, “The Rocketeer”, and “Flash Gordon”, and “Sky Captain” presents many of the scenarios seen almost as if out of the fantasies of a fan boy (i.e Conran). Conran certainly conveys his influences on-screen with a lot of zeal, because while there is plenty of great action, we also have some good romantic chemistry that is never boring. Everyone accomplishes their roles very well; Law plays Sky Captain Joe Sullivan the leader of his mysterious flying legion who charges the rescue mission for the missing scientists and his friend Dex. I loved his character, and Law is very believable as the hero. Law and Paltrow have sparkling and sharp romantic chemistry like Gable and Colbert in “It happened One Night”.
Paltrow plays the Lois Lane archetypal character with her knack for getting into trouble though never letting herself be pushed around, while Angelina Jolie plays female aggressive heroine Franky, the leader of a brigade of jetfighters who aid Sky Captain in his mission. Though Jolie isn’t as pivotal to the movie as the trailers make out, her character is a reflection of the comic book character Nicky Fury and is instantly likable. The movie as a sight is amazing to see; Conran performs visual feats that will amaze a lot of the younger audiences. The actors performed primarily on a blue screen stage while the visual and scenery were added later on in post-production. Most of it seamless in detail and mood, while never becoming sterile or artificial. All the while, I really enjoyed what was on-screen most of the time, and I was left with a big smile on my face in the end. The final twist in the final moments of the movie is great and serves as a great pay-off to the audience. Probably one of the most wholesome and fun films of 2004, Conran presents a lot of imagination in his epic take on old time serials telling a great yarn of robots, evil scientists, magical creatures and great characters.