Underrated: The Rocketeer

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: The Rocketeer.

After watching The Phantom last week, I had a hankering to watch another movie from the same era; The Rocketeer.

Based on a character created in 1982 by Dave Stevens as an homage to the matinee heroes in serials from the 30’s to the 50’s, the character is both a racing and stunt pilot in the late 30’s who finds a jetpack. The rest, as is often the case in these types of situation, is history.

The character has been published intermittently over the years, and so it was that I was first introduced to the character through the 1991 movie The Rocketeer. In a strange twist for this column, I’ve never really been able to get into the comics, though I am sure that has as much to do with their lack of availability for me as a kid and even now (though they are far easier to get now online than ever before, I just don’t feel as inclined to do so), but the film?

As a kid, I remember loving the film.

It had all the things in a movie that I was looking for; humour, effects that made me believe a man could fly, a terrifying bad guy and a super suave bad guy, and a rugged hero who just happened to stumble onto an evil plan that only his fists could solve. I have no idea how many times I watched this movie as a kid, but I know it was one of only a few films that we had on VHS growing up that hadn’t been recorded from the television (I can honestly count those on one hand), and it was a movie I loved to watch.

My parents were more than happy for me to watch it given that it was a family friendly movie.

A few years ago I picked the movie up on Blu-ray, hoping that I’d still be able to find some enjoyment from a film that had been such a key part in my childhood background; two of the others, Hook and Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, were also frequently on the VHS – and though Hook holds up magnificently, I haven’t brought myself to watch the other in twenty years. So it was with some trepidation that I pushed play on the movie after more than two decades (which reminds me I am old).

Would I still love the cheesy humour? Would the old school special effects feel too dated? Would the story be anything more than a good yarn, one that was good then but is average at best today? Would I watch the credits roll crushed as my childhood evaporated before my eyes.

It didn’t take me long to realize that while I remembered the movie differently, what I was watching was still pretty damn good. My nervousness at it’s quality was unfounded – though watching the things I loved about the movie with adult eyes did give me an interesting perspective. I found myself asking how the hell nobody noticed that the Rocketeer was wearing Cliff Secord’s clothing, and then decided that it didn’t matter.

Which is about how I reacted anytime my suspension of disbelief started to question the movie’s events, whether it was the utter obliviousness to the clothing of the hero or how easy non-authorized personnel seemed to be able to get to places they shouldn’t. Because the movie never does it in a way that you feel is hamfisted or forced. It happens because the plot needs it to, much like it usually does in movies of that era and before.

Once I let go of that, essentially finding the inner child who just wanted to love the movie again, I realized that any of the things that should bother me didn’t.

And you know what? The movie still holds up.

Join us next week when we look at something else that is, for whatever reason, Underrated.