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8/14/17

THE ROCKETEER - REVIEW


Director Joe Johnston brought The Rocketeer to life in this Disney film from 1991 starring Bill Campbell and Jennifer Connelly. While it was critically well received, it didn't earn quite enough at the box-office to guarantee a sequel but it's still seen as something of a cult gem.

Created in 1982 by comic-book writer/artist Dave Stevens, The Rocketeer is a homage to classic serial heroes: an all-American good guy with one special ability, fighting against cartoonishly evil villains. The ability in question being a jetpack which stunt pilot Cliff Secord (Campbell) finds with airplane mechanic Peevy (Alan Arkin) when a bunch of gangsters steal it from Howard Hughes (Terry O'Quinn). Cliff uses the rocket pack to save people and fight back against those looking to harm him but this puts his girl Jenny Blake (Connelly) and others close to him in great danger. The main antagonist being Neville Sinclair, a popular Hollywood actor (played by a scene-stealing Timothy Dalton) with his own agenda to steal the rocket. Between the mob, Sinclair, the FBI and intimidating henchman Lothar (Tiny Ron Taylor), Cliff certainly has his hands full in this movie. The tone throughout is mostly upbeat and light-hearted but the film isn't without its darker moments so it definitely feels like it balances the wide-eyed naivety of some of the characters with the more sinister aspects of the story and its villains really well, far better than The Phantom managed.

There's really very little to dislike about The Rocketeer: the characters, including the bad guys, are likeable, the cinematography is beautiful, the action and special effects are well done and the story is genuinely compelling. This is a cool throwback superhero you warm up to quickly and want to see more of by the end of the film. There's an endearing quality to this adventure that should please fans of the Indiana Jones movies or even Dick Tracy, which was released only a year prior. Thinking about why this film works and The Phantom didn't, it's partly because this one nailed the right tone but also the writing is much sharper and funnier plus, let's be honest, The Rocketeer is not wearing a purple onesie. After this movie and Joe Johnston's background working on various George Lucas-helmed projects from Star Wars to Raiders Of The Lost Ark, it makes sense that the director would eventually take on Captain America in the 2011 Marvel feature. The Rocketeer may not be perfect with Connelly giving an occasionally wooden performance and the titular hero rarely getting the chance to truly show off how heroic he can be but overall this is a terrific superhero flick.

Most people remember The Rocketeer fondly and it's easy to see why: it looks fantastic, it's a lot of fun, everything about it is charming and although it can be tongue-in-cheek at times, it never becomes a joke. This is one proudly retro comic-book movie that's well worth seeking out.

Underrated gem.

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