Few movies activated my imagination as a child the way The Rocketeer did. My mother would tape two 2-liter bottles together and attach yarn for shoulder straps so that I could pretend that I had a rocket pack of my own. The movie that so influenced my play time was made, naturally, by Walt Disney. The title refers to the protagonist after he finds an experimental jet-pack created by Howard Hughes and develops a “super hero” persona. Cliff Secord is a stunt pilot in 1938 LA, it is he, along with his mechanic friend, who discover the rocket-pack stowed away in the cockpit of a plane. What starts as an innocent experiment to get the pack working, quickly turns into a game of cat and mouse. While Cliff aims to fine tune his ability with the Jet-Pack, the Nazi party wants nothing more than to get it’s hands on it so they can reverse engineer it and use it in the war effort.
It’s a high-flying underrated adventure that manages to captivate the audience with convincing visuals and likeable characters. The period-piece feel ads to the atmosphere in a very “Indiana Jones” sort of way. A good chunk of what makes the movie work so well is the attention to details and set design. The premise alone lays the ground work for an exciting ride, and with solid performances from it’s entire cast the set pieces can easily meld into the story, just the way they should. The jet-pack itself offers many opportunities for creative uses of special effects to take center stage. As this movie was made in the early 90s CGI was nowhere near as advanced as it is today. Industrial Light and Magic did a fantastic job in not attempting to show us amazing feats that would have been impossible for them to convincingly show the audience. Also, it should be noted that although not the most colorful, The Rocketeer himself has one of the coolest super hero costumes ever.
The past few decades have been filled with various renditions of super hero movies and, with the exception of the Superman franchise, They have relied on the dark nature of comic books in an attempt to convey a sense of seriousness to the film. The Rocketeer, on the other hand, forgoes the dark and gritty and replaces it with an adventurous and almost innocent sort of fun in the face of great peril. The lighter tone was one of the biggest caveats that critics of this movie point out; in my opinion it is one of its many strengths. Few comic book movies strive for a PG rating, but The Rocketeer was able to give us a fun and visually engaging feature that was enjoyable for younger children as well as adults.