Cinema has the power to instill the complete range of human emotion into each of us. It can make us laugh, cry, scream. Some movies are great because they make us think about world issues or question our existence. Some movies are great because they allow us to escape for a couple of hours on an adventure. The Rocketeer is one of those great adventure escape movies.
We meet Cliff Secord, a young test pilot who with his engineer/inventor friend Peevy are preparing to compete in a big air race. They find a hidden rocket pack and needing a kickstart they keep it and experiment with it. Searching for the pack are several groups of characters, most of which are nefarious in some way or another. There’s an A-list Hollywood actor, his team of gangster goons, the FBI, and even Howard Hughes himself.
Is it a homage to the serials and comic books from the 30s, 40s, and 50s? Is it an updated telling of so many B-movies from the same era about adventures and death-defying stuntmen who would do anything? Is it a movie made by a young boy who finally got the chance to live out his dreams of inventions, danger, rescuing his girl and saving the day? I think it’s all of them. There are parts of the movie that incorporate all of these elements and then blends them together into an interwoven story. There’s comedy (like when Cliff confesses to his girlfriend he’s the well-known hero the Rocketeer and she has no idea who that is), action, suspense, and drama.
If the movie wasn’t so exciting it would be overtly cliché. And maybe it is, but it sticks with it and it all works. It takes place during a time when the art deco style ruled, the good guys were clean cut, the feds drove around in big black cars and had spectacular shootouts, gangsters ran fashionable nightclubs, and Nazis were a known evil, but a world away.
The ending gets a little patriotic, but that’s ok. It whole film may not intend to be, but it feels like it is. Sometimes we just need the imagery of the American flag flying behind the hero off to defeat the bad guys and save the day. And he’s no Marvel superhero, but fits right into the superhero world with his reluctance to be the hero, his humanity, and his desire to do what’s right.
The movie has airplane races, dramatic actors playing dramatic actors, a giant, federal agents and gangsters fighting Nazis together, genius inventors, a fight on top of a zeppelin, and a man flying around with a rocket on his back, what more can you ask for?