It’s been 21 years since The Rocketeer gave us Billy Campbell, Nazi Timothy Dalton, Jennifer Connelly doing her best Bettie Page impersonation (kinda), while pretty much dying at the box office. Now for some reason, Disney wants to bring Dave Stevens’ creation back to the big screen.
After the jump, see why I think more of the Rocketeer is a great idea (and why I think Disney might be the wrong home for it).
You know, outside of some pacing issues, the original film from Captain America director Joe Johnston wasn’t half-bad. Our hero Cliff Secord didn’t do nearly enough zipping around in the rocket pack and what was on screen involved a lot of flailing and wackiness and the pilot tried to grapple with the a jet’s worth of thrust stuck on his back. But tonally, it was pitch perfect, tossing actor Billy Campbell and the rest of the cast into a very authentic-feeling 1940’s Los Angeles that just happened to have a bunch of Nazi’s running around up to no good.
Dave Stevens was in love with the pulps (and cheesecake) and his short-lived (but long in producing) strip was a celebration of that, something I could see fitting in very well with a film market that’s supporting movies like the Nazis on the moon pic Iron Skies. And with Disney full-on in the comic business, it seems like a perfect fit, right? The movie hasn’t really ever left our consciousness, and I bet a lot of you out there have seen the movie (Capcom even made a sort of homage to the character with their 2010 game Dark Void). In the last year, IDW has resurrected the character with a series of comics by top artists and writers, proving that the concept endures.
Well, put the brakes on your jetpack there, pal, because I want you to think back to another pulp hero that Disney was all hot to get on the big screen that didn’t fare so well: John Carter. There was actually nothing wrong with that movie (in fact, it was actually really very fun, if hampered by a stiff performance lead Taylor Kitsch), but Disney was very gun shy about how to push the movie to fans and maybe even the overall vision. You might have forgotten how the studio didn’t even want “of Mars” included in the title, afraid that it might scare off female viewers, and the opening to the movie is anchored by the kind of self-seriousness that a lot of filmmakers think need to be a part of any comic book movie/pulp entertainment (I’m looking at you, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and the like). A Rocketeer movie needs to be smart, sexy, funny, and dangerous, and I don’t know if Disney has that in them.
But really, what’s more problematic for The Rocketeer is the purity of its concept. It’s so pure and perfect (nice guy with a jetpack punching Nazis) that someone out there will feel the need to embellish the material somehow. I’m talking a Rocketeer vs. aliens, or Nazi vampires, or Cliff’s from a long line of guys fighting evil with rocket packs, or it’s set in the present or any other number of terrible but possible variations.
Does Disney have a good Rocketeer film in them? I’m not sure. Personally, I’d love for Pixar to crank out an animated film in the style of the propaganda short that appears in the film, but who really knows what their vision is for Cliff and company at this point. Until we find out who’s directing, I’ll just remain cautiously optimistic.