The Rocketeer (1991)

(On DVD, November 2017) For proof that “old-fashioned” in no insult, look no further than The Rocketeer, a glorious throwback to the adventure serials of the 1930s and a highly enjoyable comic-book movie from a time well before the current glut of comic-book movies. If this film has a secret weapon, it’s charm. The kind of quasi-goofy, rather comfortable charm that you get with a morally upstanding square-jawed hero (Billy Campbell), a curly brunette heroine (Jennifer Connelly), a scenery-chomping villain (Timothy Dalton), a fun piece of technology (a rocket backpack!) and a voluntarily retro setting that pays affectionate homage to the best features of the era. Here we are at the heroic age of aviation, with Gee-Bees barnstormers, Hollywood glamour, Nazis lurking at the edges of the screen and Howard Hughes coming up with fantastic inventions. It’s certainly not challenging, but it’s a lot of fun. Director Joe Johnston has proven time and again his ability to deliver straightforward adventures, but The Rocketeer still stands as one of the highlights of his career. The special effects aren’t particularly good, but who cares when the script, and the film, have this scene-to-scene watchability that will keep viewers glued to the screen. A similar movie would probably do better today (The Rocketeer is definitely a spiritual ancestor to Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger), and as it turns out there are steady rumblings about a sequel any time soon. I’m looking forward to that.

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