a critiQal film review The Rocketeer (1991)

Plot: The discovery of a top-secret jetpack hurls test pilot Cliff Secord (Campbell) into a daring adventure of mystery, suspense and intrigue. Cliff encounters an assortment of ruthless villains, led by a Hollywood screen star who's a secret spy (Dalton). With the help of his actress girlfriend (Connelly), the young pilot battles enormous odds to defeat his foes, who are anxious to use the device in an evil plan to rule the world.

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While everyone is rushing to the theaters to watch Chris Hemsworth in Thor: Ragnarok (2017), we figured on sitting down and watching an older superhero flick for this week’s retro review. But which one?

At first, we leaned toward The Phantom, but we ended up stumbling across an even better choice: The Rocketeer. Directed by Joe Johnston (Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)), produced by Disney (which is also producing the Marvel flicks) and inventor of the “shaky cam” that’s still used to this day, this seemed like the perfect choice. But, would this rather-forgotten superhero flick be worth checking out, or should we have gone with our other choice, The Phantom?

Billy Campbell leads a rather impressive cast as the title character in The Rocketeer. With his goofy charm and good looks, he is a solid casting choice, and does a good job of keeping the viewers entertained. Sure, his character is a bit cheesy, but his enthusiasm for the part seems apparent, and he brings viewers along for the fun.

The rest of the cast is decently portrayed as well, for the most part. While Alan Arkin shines as “Peevy,” Campbell’s best friend and genius tinkerer, and Terry O’Quinn (“Lost” (TV)) is impressive as Howard Hughes, Jennifer Connelly has the right blend of guts and gooey-eyed damsel to make her role shine. Even bit players, like James Handy, Ed Lauter and Paul Sorvino seem to be having fun in their roles.

The only real letdown in the acting department comes with the villain, portrayed by Timothy Dalton. While he has a few moments of decency in The Rocketeer, most of the time he just comes off as flat and rather dull. Just like his appearances as James Bond, he once again lets viewers down. At least this time, he isn’t the main focus of the film, so viewers can shrug it off and still enjoy the flick.

If viewers are going into The Rocketeer expecting a Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) style film, with depth and complexity, they are going to be sadly left wanting (although they might get why Johnston was chosen for a film about a hero fighting Nazis in WWII). The sequences are goofy, the dialogue tends to drift toward the cheesy, and lots of the action (and some of the plot points) are almost too silly. And yet, directed Joe Johnston makes it all work, anyway. And the special effects help too.

The special effects, especially for a film more than 25 years old by this point, are still decent in The Rocketeer. Sure, some of the sequences do show a little bit of age (and technological inferiority), but for the most part, it’s impressive how much a movie about a flying man in 1991 still holds up.

But then again, even the special effects of a film like SUPERMAN (another movie focused on a flying man) haven’t been too degraded even after nearly 40 years, so that’s not as big of an achievement as it seems to be. Still, most viewers go into films of the early 90’s and prior thinking they are probably going to be disappointed by the quality of the special effects. Thankfully, in The Rocketeer, there’s no need to worry, at least with the flying sequences. The heavy hand and goofy prosthetics applied to the makeup of one of the villains? Well, that’s another story.

Sure, The Rocketeer has it’s drawbacks. It’s goofy, it’s cheesy, and the villain is ridiculously acted. But, with a positive theme everyone can get caught up in (beat the Nazis with our jetpack hero) – and some fun performances from a lot of recognizable faces – even Timothy Dalton can’t keep The Rocketeer from being just plain fun.

Check it out today, and see for yourself!

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