Tomorrow never looked so good

From its opening fanfare to its final shot, “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” (Paramount Pictures) seems like a nonstop homage to films that helped define the genres of adventure, fantasy and sci-fi. “Star Wars,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “King Kong,” “Godzilla” and “The Wizard of Oz.” – you won’t be alone if these titles start popping into your head. And while “Sky Captain” will most likely not join these films in future references to classic cinema, it is an extremely enjoyable movie and a visual marvel at that.

The story begins in the dark winter wonderland of an alternate 1930s New York City. Intrepid reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) follows a lead to information about a group of missing scientists, connecting them with a series of attacks from giant robots. She seeks the help of an old flame, hero-for-hire Sky Captain (Jude Law), and together they traverse the globe to find out what happened to the scientists.

Originally slated for release this June, “Sky Captain” was delayed until Sept. 17 to accommodate extensive post-production. Had its original release date been met, it certainly would have been considered a “summer blockbuster.” Although the delay of such a high-profile release can often appear dubious (think “Gigli”), it is a good thing that Paramount gave this film as much time as it needed. The extra time allowed the filmmakers to craft some of the most impressive visuals to date. First-time writer/director Kerry Conran shot the entire film on a blue screen, and every set, prop and robot were later manufactured digitally. The only part of the film existing in the real world is its cast, and even it has been touched up to fit perfectly with the film’s gorgeous backdrops.

It’s true the computer wizardry overshadows the actors in the film, but despite this, the roles are played exactly as needed. The cast fulfilled the challenge of acting against only a blue screen with ease. At the center of it all, Jude Law is confident, charming, funny and intelligent, playing Sky Captain like he was Superman and creating a wonderful new cinematic hero. Paltrow seems a little less comfortable than Law and others acting with the blue screens, but most of her dialogue compensates for her lack of ease, and it pleases me to say that she is enjoyable as the heroine, a full-on, stubborn-yet-vulnerable 1930s dame. In her performance as Capt. Franky Cook, fearless commander and pilot, Angelina Jolie has considerably less screen time than Law or Paltrow, but maintains a memorable screen presence. Giovanni Ribisi (“Lost in Translation”) plays Dex Dearborn, the Jimmy Olsen to Sky Captain’s Superman, in a surprise departure from the whiny, insecure, often annoying characters he seems to have thrust upon him. Also, be on the lookout for a posthumous cameo from one of film’s legends.

There is only one place that “Sky Captain” fails to deliver, and it is worth noting. Every one of the numerous action sequences has incredible potential. They look great, and although every one will have the audience salivating for the climax, one never seems to arrive. Had the action in Sky Captain delivered excitement like the action in some of the movies mentioned above, it might belong among their ranks. There is a good chance, though, that you might be too busy looking at the breathtaking scenery to notice.

“Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” will be released in Washington, D.C. theaters on Sept. 17.

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