The Rocketeer (1991)
March 13, 2023 12:11 PM - Subscribe

In the 1930s, a stunt pilot comes across a prototype jetpack that gives him the ability to fly. However, evil forces of the world also want this jetpack at any cost.

One of the superhero attempts that landed after Burton's Batman but well before the MCU. Based on a comic book series by Dave Stevens. Starring Billy Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, Alan Arkin and (as an Errol Flynn style actor) Timothy Dalton. Directed by Joe Johnston, who'd reuse a lot of the retro feel of this 20 years later in Captain America: The First Avenger. This got a decent budget and marketing push by Disney. Reviews were generally positive but not raves; box office was adequate but it wasn't a blockbuster. Plans for a sequel vanished.

On the Unclear and Present Danger podcast, Ganz and Bouie rave about the 1930s design, Connelly's rocking the Golden Age movie star look, fun action sequences, and the simpler times when beating up fascists was got wide support from all Americans.

67% on Rotten Tomatoes. Available on Disney+ or for rental on Amazon or Apple.
posted by mark k (18 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I think I saw this about the time it came out and didn't think much of it.

On a rewatch I thought it was great; the action is all well done, the dialog zips along, I got more of the '30s Hollywood references, and it's just different enough from the MCU house style to feel refreshing. Errol Flynn as a Nazi spymaster is awesome.

There's not much there beyond the adventure story, which seems to be the common complaint in reviews at the time. But I think it what it does offer ages well compared to a lot of the bloated action we get these days. The 100% white cast in a movie that's supposed to be about American unity is the one area where it falls flat, an unintentional commentary on the national consensus of the time.
posted by mark k at 12:26 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]

The Rocka-who?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:27 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]

A friend of mine is a huge fan of the comic and the movie, and has a limited edition (I wanna say brass?) replica Rocketeer helmet that’s center stage in his wall o’ movie memorabilia.
I thought the movie was fine, but I haven’t gone back and watched it again since shortly after it came out. I think Terry O’Quinn as Howard Hughes was an inspired choice.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 1:26 PM on March 13

I watched this again pretty recently, it's always been a fave. I've got the abstract art deco teaser poster framed on my wall. It's as fun as I remember, and more clever than I'd given it credit for with the cinematic callbacks and the snappy dialog and the bonkers alt-history. The special effect set pieces even held up better than I was expecting with I guess the exception of Lothar, The Biggest And Also Sneakiest Nazi, though I'm willing to even extend a pass to his dire makeup situation in the spirit of fun.

Lothar would be less fun and menacing if his face moved right. It's fun. The whole movie's just fun.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 2:44 PM on March 13

I like The Rocketeer. But it's only so-so overall; not terrible and not great. Timothy Dalton and Jennifer Connelly are the stand-out performances. And I love Terry O'Quinn as Hughes. Also, the movie looks fantastic. The sets, the costumes, the logos and advertisements are all attractive.
posted by Stuka at 3:20 PM on March 13

I loooooooved this movie as a kid. There was a tie-in, as there were at the time, with a special cup and lid with the kid’s personal pizza pack at Pizza Hut and I Had To Have That Cup. I did get the cup. I do not still have it, just the Garfield and Friends one, which was also important. But I remember seeing this rented from a Blockbuster (but I also feel like I saw it in the theater) when I got to visit my family in the big city of Charlotte, where they even had movie theaters. I loved the design and it just seemed like Fun. But I also could never see Timothy Dalton as Bond again; no need - the treasure that is Pierce Brosnan starred in GoldenEye and all was right.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 4:12 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]

This was a favorite when it came out, albeit, I don't recall the last time I saw it. It's been on the re-watch list for ages. As a kid who grew up with Dalton as my first real Bond, it was a bit distracting to see him appear in a film where he was the bad guy. None the less, this film beat Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail by a couple years when it came to big Nazi blimp action. Not mentioned is James Horner's score. It's not his best, but it has some nice themes and is appropriately heroic. I fully expected Billy Campbell to go on to do bigger and better things...but he didn't.
posted by Atreides at 6:28 PM on March 13

In a slightly different world, he did: he and Jonathan Frakes were the final two candidates for the role of William Riker. This is a role that Frakes started playing, let us recall, during the Reagan administration and is still doing so in a show airing this month.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:04 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]

Billy Campbell was great in the original version of The 4400.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:51 AM on March 14

>> The Rocka-who?

I got that reference. I came in here to *make* that reference.
posted by Molesome at 6:21 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]

This is definitely the better of the two movies Jennifer Connolly made for 1991, the other being Career Opportunities which was a painful slog to watch. How do you turn a John Hughes script into such a chore?
posted by Molesome at 6:24 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]

I think part of why this didn't take off and maybe looks better today is the era in which it was set. Sixty years ago is kind of an awkward time. (Right now, that would be 1963, it was 1931 when the Rocketeer came out.) It's long enough ago to be "thee olden days" for young folks, but there's plenty of people who were there and remember it, they're just way too old to be cool now. It's like trying to make grandma and grandpa sexy, there's kind of a barrier there. But 90 years ago is long enough to come around and seem cool again. I'm pretty sure this theory does not hold up at all, but I'm happy to bring it to you nevertheless.
posted by rikschell at 6:49 AM on March 14 [6 favorites]

he and Jonathan Frakes were the final two candidates for the role of William Riker. This is a role that Frakes started playing, let us recall, during the Reagan administration and is still doing so in a show airing this month.

Billy's still occasionally playing his TNG character, Thadiun Okona - most recently in Prodigy S1E15 "Masquerade". But, yeah, not quite the same level of public attention.
posted by hanov3r at 7:39 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]

I really liked The Rocketeer when it came out and every time I've seen Billy Campbell in a role since I've been happy to see him because he's The Rocketeer. I enjoyed Once and Again but because he was in it I enjoyed it even more.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:44 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]

Need to rewatch this because it was such a feeling of high adventure to me and zippy to boot. So many movies today forget to zip.
posted by drewbage1847 at 12:27 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]

Fun fact: in the original comic by Dave Stevens, Jennifer Connelly's character is named "Betty" and pretty clearly based on 50s pinup queen Bettie Page, but Disney made them change the character.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:43 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]

If you don’t have a child or aren’t a child you may not know there’s a Disney Junior spinoff of The Rocketeer. It’s a cute show with some of the movie’s cast doing voice work.
posted by jeoc at 3:03 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]

I love the score.
posted by jgirl at 9:32 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]

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