Director Kerry Conran is obviously an obsessive/compulsive genius, one whose mad focus is on movies during their era of greatest artistic purity, the late-1930s. Merging the sensibilities of art deco and German expressionism with the visual panache of film noir and filtering the result through the cartoon style (and basic scenario) of Dave Fleischer’s Superman cartoon, Mechanical Monsters, he’s come up with a gorgeous tribute to pre-WWII Hollywood that revels in its pulp antecedents.
Ace reporter Polly Perkins (an anachronistic Gwyneth Paltrow) hooks up with the mercenary Sky Captain (a surprisingly tolerable Jude Law) to investigate a rash of missing scientists and their connection to a mad genius and his army of mechanical monsters. Eye-patched Angelina Jolie drops by briefly in what is essentially a cameo.
For most of the film, Conran’s eye and ear for the era are spot-on. Unfortunately, the delicate balance begins to teeter toward the final stretch. First the music goes awry, as generic John Williams-style bombast overwhelms what has been, until then, a more era-friendly soundtrack.
Finally the tributes shift abruptly from the timeline, as homage to King Kong veers off to the late 20th century of Jurassic Park and ultimately arrives at a climax derived from the catwalk light saber battle of The Empire Strikes Back, woefully incongruous with the rest of the project.
However, Sky Captain is at all times visually arresting. With a little less Paltrow, more Jolie and a tighter script it could have been an instant classic.