By Neil Smith
BBC News Online
The future is not what it used to be in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, in which movie stars Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow mingle seamlessly with visionary computer-generated effects.
The film is a technical tour de force for director Kerry Conran, who spent years working on its elaborate images with his production designer brother Kevin.
Paltrow and Law first acted together in The Talented Mr Ripley
Shooting his actors against a blue screen, Kerry then placed them within fantastical settings where every detail was digitally created.
Tinged in the sepia tones of a classic black-and-white movie, the $70 million (£39m) result is a fascinating experiment that mixes state-of-the-art software with the vintage aesthetic of Hollywood's golden age.
The year is 1939, and New York is under threat from giant robots that march through its concrete canyons wreaking havoc.
Could these metal monsters be connected to the disappearance of the world's most celebrated scientists? Reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) thinks so and is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Joining forces with ace pilot Joseph Sullivan (Jude Law), aka 'Sky Captain', the plucky newshound follows a trail that takes them from the frozen Himalayas to a giant hovering airstrip, to a jungle island populated by prehistoric creatures.
Giant robots terrorise Manhattan in an impressive early sequence
However, their antagonistic relationship means they spend more time at each other's throats than they do saving the world.
From the stunning opening scene - a giant airship, the Hindenburg III, docking at the summit of the Empire State Building - Conran presents us with an eye-popping visual extravaganza.
This is a world of tentacle-limbed androids, bird-like bombers, miniature animals and gleaming space rockets that recall fond memories of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.
Conran also pays homage to King Kong, Metropolis and a dozen other screen favourites.
The problem is the story Conran tells is nowhere near as rewarding as his virtual accomplishments.
Jumping erratically from one extravagant set-piece to another, there is little time to engage with the paper-thin characters.
Nor is the acting or dialogue sparky enough to give a human dimension to this rather clinical exercise in style over content.
The most significant drawback, though, is the actors' inability to credibly interact with their non-existent environments.
Angelina Jolie dons an eyepatch to play Captain Franky Cook
At no point do we feel the protagonists are in any actual peril, their one-size-fits-all expressions of wide-eyed amazement failing to convince on even a parodic level.
The film is at its best around its halfway point, mostly due to Angelina Jolie's coolly elegant cameo as Franky Cook, the leader of an all-female "amphibious squadron".
With a plummy British accent and piratical eyepatch, the Tomb Raider star steals the show from Paltrow's intensely irritating heroine.
However, by the time Conran plays his trump card - no less than Laurence Olivier, appearing from beyond the grave in hologram form - you are more than ready to leave the World of Tomorrow and return to the realm of the present.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow opens in the US on 17 September and in the UK on 1 October.