Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a 2004, pulp adventure science-fiction film directed by Kerry Conran . It covers the exploits of Joseph Sullivan , aka Sky Captain, as he attempts to track down a mysterious scientist intent on reshaping the course of human existence within an alternate 1939 when the Rise of Hitler never broke out into the global war of 1939-1945.
The film opens above a snowy New York City, on board the airship Hindenburg III as it docks with the Empire State Building. On board the Airship is a German scientist, Dr Jorge Vargas , who orders for a package to be sent to a Dr Walter Jennings, living in New York City. As the crew member walks away from the doctor with the package in his hand, he notices the desperate plea that the accompanying letter contains. Turning around, the crewman cannot see a trace of the Doctor.
In New York City, journalist Polly Perkins, who has been covering the dissapearance of several prominent scientists is typing in her office when she is told of a package that arrived for her from an unknown source. Within the package is a copy of Isaac Newton's Mathematical Principles and a not scribbled in the inside cover that asks her to come to the Radio City Theatre at 6pm; tempting her with the clue: "I know who's next!". On arriving at the Cinema, she follows a suspicious man into the screeninfg of The Wizard of Oz. The man introduces himself as Dr Walter Jenning and describes to Polly, the facility he worked in, which is now returning to haunt himself and his colleagues. As Jennings turns to leave air raid sirens begin to sound throughout the city and Polly spots a blueprint of a giant machine on the floor near her seat. As she bends down to pick it up, Dr Jennings slips away into the crowd.
Making her way outside, people are in a panic as dozens of shapes appear over New York. These shapes soon reveal themselves to be enormous mechanical men which proceed to brush aside all the limited resistance massed against them. In turmoil, the government sends out Emergency Protocol 90206 calling for aid from The Flying Legion. Sky Captain responds and arrives over New York; strafing the machines with machine gun fire from his P-40 Warhawk . On the ground, Polly, who stayed behind to document the attack with her camera, desperately dodges the rampaging robots and is saved by Sky Captain as he delays one of the machines from taking a step, giving Polly enough time to role out of the way. As Sky Captain flies overhead he sees the machines unearthing New York's power generators, revealing the motive for the raid. He then drops a type of magnetic bomb which latches onto the ankle of one of the giants, blowing its foot off and blocking their advance. Following this, a radio broadcast reports on attacks of this kind from across the globe.
As Sky Captain returns to his Base with his prize, the fallen giant, which he gives to Dex to study, he finds Polly Perkins lurking in his office. Polly, who says she can't "...remember what they were arguing about" irritates Joe to the point of him pointing his pistol at her with jibes concerning their past history. Joe is certain that whilst he was serving in China, Polly sabotaged his plane causing him to crash and be captured by the Japanese. And Polly is certain that Joe had a "...little mystery girl" the whole time they were in Nanjing. Both refuse to back down but Dex's arrival stops the encounter. Joe tells him to take Polly off the base and she flashes the blueprint from the cinema at Joe.
"I want that blueprint Polly"
"I want this story Joe"
Dex then suggests to Joe that they show Polly the rest of the collection, at which point they go to a secure hangar on the base where The Flying Legion keeps all of the captured machines. Polly explains to Joe and Dex who is behind all the attacks and who it is who is in control of the machines; Dr Totenkopf . She also tells them of his secret facility, Einheit Elf , where he conducted his first experiments and the story of his mysterious dissapearance. Joe agrees to let Polly report on the story as long as he has control over what is revealed to the press and when anything is published. She agrees, but immediately takes a picture of the hangar behind her back.
Polly and Joe then go to pay a visit to Dr Jennings , hoping to gain more information. In his lab they find many strange devices and experiments but, most importantly, Dr Jennings himself who is mortally wounded after an attempt on his life. Joe chases the Assassin only to have her strike him across the face and escape. Meanwhile, Polly is told by Dr Jennings to protect two vials saying that: "...if Totenkopf finds them, the countdown will begin. This world shall end". He dies in Polly's arms and Polly conceals the vials from Joe. the air raid sirens begin to sound again and as they make their way back to the base, it comes under attack from Totenkopf's Flying Wings. Joe manages to take off in his plane, with Polly in the rear seat, and shoots down two flying wings. He is then told by Dex that the signal needed to track the machines to their base is being generated by one of the machines themselves. Finding the right machine, Joe chases it over New York City until Dex calculates the origin of the signal. During the chase Joe demonstrates the heavy modifications made by Dex to his plane, by nosediving and plunging, unharmed, into the sea. As it turns out, the plane is amphibious and has a heavy, reinforced superstructure to protect it from the impact.
As Dex discovers the origin of the machine's signal, the machines breach the Flying Legion Base and abduct him. When Joe returns, he finds Dex's map clue to the location of the machine base stuck by bubblegum to one of the ceiling supports. Despite this small victory, the base is in ruins and although most of the personal managed to escape, the Flying Legion are unable to oppose Totenkopf further.
Following Dex's clue to Tibet, Joe hooks up with Kaji, an ex-reconnaissance pilot of the Legion. Kaji tells them that the signal's genesis is within Shambhala, the mystical lost city of Shangri La. Despite the local folklore concerning the area, Kaji agrees to guide them and they set off on a trek into the mountains. They stumble across an abandoned mining complex and, upon investigating, are betrayed by Kaji's men. They are locked inside the dynamite storeroom with a lit fuse burning down to the mountains of TNT. At the last minute, Kaji arrives to unlock the door and save them and they just escape the blast but are knocked unconscious and pass out in the snow.
When they wake up, all three are naked in a bed in Shambhala having been taken in by the people there and saved. The priest who waked them explains that Totenkopf imprisoned and tortured his people, used them for forced labour and experimented on them. Upon meeting the last survivor of these experiments, he explains that they must follow "Rana" to find Totenkopf and Joe realises that he means the star, Rana. However, Joe also realises that they haven't got enough fuel to get them to where Totenkopf is, so he schedules a meeting with Commander Cook's Mobile Airstrip . It is revealed that Francesca "Franky" Cook was the girl Joe was "fooling around with" in Nanjing, but she agrees to help them gain access to the Island where Totenkopf is hiding, which is protected fiercely by his machines . Cook's amphibious fighter planes assist Joe in fighting their way past the blockade of machines to the Inlet which provides the only way in. She saves Joe's life again in doing so and earns Polly's respect.
Joe and Polly investigate the Island finding many strange Creatures, some that have been created by Totenkopf and others which seem to have survived since the of the dinosaurs. Infiltrating the complex, they find that Totenkopf has spent the last 20 years developing a Rocket to carry everything needed to create "The World of Tomorrow ", a new world, free from the sin of mankind; which he believes has condemned humans to self-destruction. They also find Dex and three other scientists who escaped from the machines, they explain the rocket's systems and purpose and all of them go to Totenkopf's chambers to confront the man who was responsible for everything that had occured. Inside they find that Totenkopf's personal affects and his body. From his diary, they discover that he died almost 20 years before their arrival and that his machines are simply fulfilling the tasks they were designed for. The scientists tell Joe that the only way to deactivate the rocket's boosters, which would destroy the Earth's atmosphere at 100km altitude, is by boarding the rocket and destroying the fuel lines mid-flight. Joe volunteers to sacrifice himself and Polly offers to go with him as "...things are just getting interesting". Joe kisses her and then knocks her out, preventing her from following him. Joe heads for the rocket but is blocked by Totenkopf's mysterious Assassin, who promptly proceeds to show him up. Polly arrives in time to save Joe's life and together they board the rocket as it lifts off and leaves the island.
On board, they climb to the highly decorated Operations Deck and cross a narrow bridge to the fuel conduits. Disabling them using the Assasin's energy weapon, and freeing the animals on the ship, they bail out in an escape pod just before the rocket explodes. Landing safely in the ocean, they witness Franky's Airship along with several others launching strike aircraft to destroy the facility on the island and the thousands of animals landing around them in the ocean. Polly uses the final shot on her camera to take a picture of Joe instead of the fantastic scene around them. Joe goes to speak but she cuts him off, saying:
"It's ok Joe, you don't have to say anything"
To which Joe replies:
The film then ends and the credits roll.