Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

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"This is Sky Captain. I'm on my way."


Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a 2004 movie homage to the Two-Fisted Tales of the 1930's. The film follows the adventures of Ace Pilot 'Joe' Sullivan, known as Sky Captain (Jude Law) and newspaper reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow).

They begin investigating the affairs of the mysterious German scientist, Dr Totenkopf, after his machines attack New York City. Further implicating Totenkopf is a string of kidnapped scientists all leading back to his involvment.

The plot shamelessly uses the outrageous gadgets and cliches of the Pulp Magazine and Comic Book genres, plus numerous shout outs to other media of the period. Filmed with live actors against computer-generated surroundings, the movie did not make enough money to offset its production costs, so a sequel is unlikely.

Tropes used in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow include:

The movie has the following Awesome but Impractical machines:

Other tropes include:

  • Action Dress Rip: Polly tears her skirt to run better during the NYC robot attack. But leaves on the heels....
  • Action Girl: Commander Francesca "Franky" Cook of the Royal Navy, who sports an Eyepatch of Power. There's also The Mysterious Woman, a silent but deadly woman who controls Totenkopf's machines and turns out to be a Robot Girl.
  • Aerial Canyon Chase: The title character flies his fighter plane along the streets of New York just above ground level while trying to escape Dr. Totenkopf's robot ornithopters.
  • Alternate History: Set in a 1939 (with The Wizard of Oz showing in theaters) where World War Two either happened earlier than our world's, is still brewing, or not at all, though apparently the Japanese invasion of Manchuria still happened.
    • There is also a Hindenburg III in the opening scene (which implies either that the first Hindenburg did not explode, or else its explosion was not an impediment to further airship construction).
    • A First World War is mentioned, so WWII definitely has happened. Or they figured audiences wouldn't understand a reference to "The World War" or "The Great War", which was how WW 1 was referred to in those days.
  • Anachronism Stew
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Spoofed. Joe Sullivan believes Polly Perkins deliberately sabotaged his plane in China while Going for the Big Scoop. When they're trapped in a cave packed with dynamite that's about to explode, Joe looks her in the eyes and asks...if she really did cut his fuel line. Polly is understandably annoyed that they're going to spend their last moments on Earth discussing this point. And on Totenkopf's island, she admits she did. A pissed off Joe then admits that he did sleep with Franky.
  • Apologetic Attacker - Played With: Totenkopf's note at his deathchair reads "Forgive me", and there's indications he tried to shut down his robot servant that was hunting scientists.
  • Bedmate Reveal: After an Outrun the Fireball moment, Polly wakes up naked in a bed next to an equally naked Joe. An embarrassed Polly tells him to turn around, which a grinning Joe does only to find he's also in bed with their guide, Kaji, who is also naked.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Polly and Joe bicker throughout the movie.

Joe: Could we just for once die without all this bickering?

  • Bilingual Dialogue: Polly can understand both written and spoken German.
  • Bring It: Dr. Totenkopf's female The Dragon makes a gesture to Sky Captain before fighting him outside the rocket ship.
  • Brits With Battleships: Flying battleships.
  • Camera Obscurer: Polly Perkins spends much of the movie with only one frame left on her only roll of film, and wants to save it for a truly awesome photo. In the film's denouement, she decides to take a photo of Joe Sullivan, only for Joe to look at her and say "Lenscap".
  • Catch Phrase: Joe (Sky Captain) says "Good boy, Dex" whenever his Sidekick Dex does something good.
  • Chair Reveal: Dr. Totenkopf. Only it turns out he's been Dead All Along.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The two metal tubes that Polly Perkins received from Dr. Jennings. Also, Dex's gun.
  • Chroma Key: The actors used only the most basic sets and props, with CGI backgrounds used in every shot.
  • Cut and Paste Environments: Toward the beginning of the movie, just after the robots attack Manhattan, Sky Captain lands at his base and drives his plane into a huge hangar. At the top of the doors of the hangar are these huge windows of 8x10 panes. In every window, some of the panes are broken. In every window, it's EXACTLY THE SAME PANES that are broken.
  • Cutting the Gordian Knot: Polly and the door to Dr. Jenning's lab.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Filmed in color and desaturated, then re-saturated again to make it more like a painting than a photo-realistic movie.
  • Dieselpunk: With a healthy helping of Tesla Punk to boot.
  • Disintegrator Ray: Gadgeteer Genius Dex is shown testing a Buck Rogers raygun that can burn a hole through solid metal with luminous Lifesavers rings of energy.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Apparently the proper response for suspecting your boyfriend is cheating on you is to sabotage his plane so that he might die (but actually just gets stuck in a brutal prison for months). But then she's a woman, he hurt her feelings, he clearly had it coming.
  • Dogfighting Furballs: Multiple furballs, including air and submarine battles.
  • The Dragon: Dr. Totenkopf's Action Girl agent. A rather extreme case of Dragon Their Feet.
  • The End of the World as We Know It / Utopia Justifies the Means: The planet-colonizing rocketship seems benign, until it's revealed that its afterburners will ignite the Earth's atmosphere.
  • Eureka Moment: "Rana is a star!"
  • Fake Shemp: Laurence Olivier, via the magic of stock footage and CGI, comes back to life as Dr. Totenkopf.
  • The Fantastic Trope of Wonderous Titles
  • George Lucas Throwback: to 30's sci-fi and 40's-50's war fiction.
  • Giant Flyer: The protagonists encounter giant prehistoric birds on Totenkopf's island.
  • A God Am I: Totenkopf, in the video that plays while his rocket is rising through the atmosphere. It plays a twisted version of the first few verses of Genesis, replacing him as God and him seeing that "Man was evil."
  • Gratuitous German: The German in this movie is often mangled.
    • A particularly noticeable example is a button labeled with "Dringlichkeitsfreigabe", which then gets translated as "Emergency Release", while it actually means "Urgency Release". It should be "Notfallfreigabe/-abkopplung/-entriegelung/-freisetzung".
    • The German newspaper headline about the robot invasion translates to "Very Big Metallc [sic!] Machines Steal Steal Reserves".
  • The Grotesque: The sole survivor of Dr. Totenkopf's uranium mining and experiments.
  • Gunship Rescue. An entire fleet of heliocarriers turns up to rescue the protagonists at the end, though they don't really need saving by that stage. And Dex has a Big Damn Heroes moment when he arrives in a hoversled just in time to save Joe and Polly from the swarm of flying killer robots.
  • Herr Doctor: All the scientists are German and Austrian.
  • Hologram Projection Imperfection: As the protagonists approach Dr. Totenkopf's office a Tesla-type generator creates a Huge Holographic Head of Totenkopf that explains his motives and warns them to get out or die. Both the image and voice are distorted when powering up, highlighting the more primitive 1930's zeerust technology of the film. The imperfections also hint this is a case of The Tape Knew You Would Say That.
  • Homages: The attack by giant bipedal robots is copied from the 1941 Superman cartoon "The Mechanical Monsters". Their laser sound-effects are the same as the Martian Disintegrator Ray in the 1953 The War of the Worlds film; similarly Polly's phoned-in report on the attack uses lines lifted from the famous Orson Welles radio broadcast. On seeing one of the robots, Dex mutters "Shazam!" The silhouette of Godzilla can be seen in a newspaper from Japan. During an underwater sequence we see both the wreck of the Titanic and the ship from King Kong, complete with ape-holding cage. King Kong himself can be seen at the top of the Empire State Building during one shot with the robots in the streets. The flying robots on Totenkopf's island have the same chest controls as Commando Cody's Jet Pack. Etc.
  • Hostage for Macguffin: When Dr. Totenkopf's thugs capture Polly Perkins in the uranium mine.
  • Hot Scoop: Polly.
  • Info Dump: Dex and the scientists explain Totenkopf's entire plan (as well as mentioning an offscreen escape where several of them got killed) in a single moment of exposition. Although not unusual in the Comic Books on which the movie is based, the scene appears clumsy on screen.
  • It Is Beyond Saving: Totenkopf's motive in creating his World of Tomorrow (and destroying the old one in the process).
  • It's the Only Way: Spoofed.

Sky Captain: "Is it safe?"
Dex: "Well, there's only one way to find out."
(Sky Captain and Polly step across the booby-trapped threshold, holding hands, in lock-step and are relieved to be unharmed)
Dex: "...I meant throw something."



  1. Except the point of view during the shot is facing Polly and the front of her camera, and the audience can clearly see the lens cap is not on. Though you could Hand Wave this as Joe messing with her again.