Julie and I had not seen this movie since we were kids, and both had fond memories of it. Action, adventure, heroes, villains, and a rocket pack, what’s not to love? It’s one of those classic adventure films full of cheesy, tropey, family fun, but would it hold up in this age of superhero blockbusters? Is it even worth watching today?
In 1991, Disney gave us one of their first comic book adaptations with The Rocketeer. Set in 1938, this camp-fest starred Bill Campbell as the titular character, Alan Arkin as the wise mentor, Jennifer Connelly as the hero’s girl, and Timothy Dalton as the sleezy villain. Complete with decent (for the era) effects, over the top action, gangsters, nazis, and a zeppelin, The Rocketeer delivers a movie reminiscent of Indiana Jones, or maybe his understudy. For all its fun, and fond childhood memories, the movie is kind of silly. It doesn’t take itself seriously in any way and is clearly made to resemble a live action cartoon more than a film adapted from a comic book. Maybe it’s because of the target audience, or being under the Disney umbrella. In either case, while this is an enjoyable movie, don’t expect anything spectacular.
That’s not to say The Rocketeer is all bad. Watch it from a kid’s perspective and you’ll enjoy it a lot more. Racing propeller planes, spectacular stunts, and rocket packs are what this movie is all about. The plot is pretty simple. Our hero is a pilot without a plane who is about to lose everything if they can’t make rent. Criminals hide a stolen rocket pack in their hangar, which gives the hero a way to make some money. His initial materialistic goals turn to more heroic ones when the villain comes looking for the rocket pack. Villain kidnaps girl, hero comes to save the day. Gangsters, nazis, fistfights, guns, explosions, hero saves girl. It’s exactly what you’d expect, and nothing more.
To add to the camp, Timothy Dalton simply owns the role of the mustache-twirling, slick-haired villain. It’s like he stepped right out of an old comic or pulp detective novel to steal your girl and laugh dramatically as he does it. Campbell makes a great, fresh-faced hero to stand up to him, and Connelly…well Jennifer Connelly stole many hearts during that era.
All in all, The Rocketeer is one of the best comic book movies of the time. I’m not familiar with the comic but from what I understand they worked closely with the creator to try and keep it as close to the source as they could. It was meant to kick off a trilogy of movies, but sadly it didn’t hit hard enough at the box office to get that chance. It did spawn a short-lived TV show, and there are rumblings of remakes and reboots in the distance, but for good wholesome fun I say this movie still has it. Sure, it’s silly. It’s cheesy. It’s not something you can compare to modern super hero films, but it’s still a fun watch. For what it’s worth, it’s a fun ride.