Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
2004
When scientists the world over keep disappearing without a trace, it's up to intrepid reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) and top aviator Sky Captain (Jude Law) to uncover the truth in this futuristic, Art Deco-style actioner. The task involves putting their lives at risk as the pair travels to treacherous locales, hoping to throw a wrench in the plans of a villain who aims to wipe out the planet. Angelina Jolie and Giovanni Ribisi co-star.

Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”

Few movies have more divided critics and audiences this year. The former are carried away with its zest and visual splendor, the latter bored by its lazy plotting and characterization. As far as I'm concerned, this is the kind of film in which the story exists for the sole purpose of justifying the visuals; frankly, the film was generous with details, not stingy. If you're trying to figure out the mystery being investigated by the heroes, you're really paying attention to the wrong part of this movie.

The film was famously inspired by a six-minute short of towering robots attacking New York, and so it's only appropriate that the best sequence is that one, near the beginning. For its magnitude and sheer genius of execution, that sequence is worth the price of admission by itself, an explosion of deco aesthetics and old-fashioned Adventure wrapped up into a miniature action masterpiece. The rest of the film is worthy of it, gleefully and skillfully going over the top whenever possible, and that means often. For a viewer like me who loves good movies for the striking new images they give us, this is a treasure trove of wonders.

It's not a perfect film, due to the aforementioned weakness of the script, and the technology occasionally betrays itself with a faint blue aura around the actors in close-ups. But it cannot be underappreciated for its wealth of visual invention; this movie is the reason why so many creative filmmakers turn to animation to present their ideas, and it paints a glorious future for animated cinema, not a dreary one. Entertainment should always be this bold.

Footnote: I must condemn the use of Laurence Olivier in a cameo role fifteen years after his death, manipulated to play a new character with old footage. Even the critics who deplore this kind of classless stunt find themselves apologizing for it, but I won't. Any number of famous living actors would have been terrific for the cameo, and even a nobody would have been better than resurrecting a dead man for the part. It's a black mark on an otherwise brilliant film.

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