The Rocketeer


Mentioning Jennifer Connelly yesterday brings me to “The Rocketeer”. This one’s fun for all the family – it’s a Disney movie. And, although it may not be a classic, in my opinion it’s arguably one of the most influential movies of the last 30 years. I’m not joking. It’s perhaps the first great superhero movie of the modern age, and it was well ahead of its time.

It came after Tim Burton’s Batman movies, but those films don’t have the same fun and heart as the current movies that now dominate the box-office. “The Rocketeer” is meant to be pure entertainment and it paved the way for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. At the time Rolling Stone magazine said “It’s the kind of movie magic that we don’t see much of anymore”. We definitely see a lot of it now.

It’s about a test pilot in the thirties who comes into possession of a top-secret, hi-tech jet pack that enables him to fly. But the FBI and some bad guys also want it. At the same time his girlfriend is trying to become a movie star. So it’s a wonderful composite of the golden age of US innovation and the golden age of Hollywood.

Director Joe Johnston was a special effects expert, having worked on the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies. It’s based on a comic book series, and is a love-letter to the movies of the thirties and forties, such as “Robin Hood”, and Saturday morning serials like “Flash Gordon”. It treads a fine line between being old-fashioned and beautifully modern.

The special effects are sometimes, by today’s CGI standards, a bit poor but, and I know I always say this, the production design is amazing. The wonderful score by James Horner echoes Bill Conti’s score for “The Right Stuff” (they’re both about test pilots and rockets) and there are some very obvious references in the movie to “The Right Stuff” too – I’ll let you find them yourself.

It wasn’t a huge success at the time but it’s a precursor to all the movies that are now breaking box-office records. “The Rocketeer” was “Iron Man” long before “Iron Man”. So, after “Iron Man”‘s success, when Marvel was looking for someone to direct an introduction to Captain America set during the early forties the choice was simple. And Joe Johnston did a brilliant job with that movie too.

The lead, Bill Campbell, was an unknown and he’s maybe a bit bland – he’s definitely no Robert Downey Jr. However, the supporting cast are fantastic. Alan Arkin is wonderful as the old mentor. Timothy Dalton is excellently wicked as an arrogant version of Errol Flynn. And Jennifer Connelly is once again brilliant and incredibly beautiful. At 21 she perfectly captures the classic Hollywood ingénue look of the times. I have to admit that *might* have been another reason why I loved this when I was also 21.

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