A chiaroscuro lark, Kerry Conran’s Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow trips through at least a dozen killer screen savers in evoking its retro adventure milieu. Carefully scrambled visual referents—pre–WW II New York and Lost Horizon‘s Shangri-la, Buck Rogers comics and shadow-casting Constructivist fonts—make this CGI romp more than a video game waiting to happen, though eye-patched Angelina Jolie, commander of a flying fortress, is so impossibly sleek you can almost sense the mouse clicks that send her zipping into the stratosphere.
As titular aerial stud Joe Sullivan and ex-flame–ace reporter Polly Perkins, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow are game and glowing throwbacks. In the wake of puzzling attacks by legions of gargantuan robots, the bickering pair crosses continents to thwart the doomsday designs of Dr. Totenkopf, head of the mysterious Unit 11. The eye-grabbing central conflict, pitting airbrushed flesh-and-blood against mechanized marauders, resonates with the film’s hybrid composition (live actors blue-screened to the gills), but the entertaining, past-besotted Sky Captain hardly heralds the cinema of the future—it’s more like a welcome curiosity. His nostalgia enabled by technology, Conran takes the ghosts in his machine seriously, and the results appear at once meltingly lovely and intriguingly inhuman.