With the Oscar nominations due to be announced this week, I thought about trying to find some old Academy Award speculation from the days of the radio show, but it was pretty rare that there was a script involved in discussion on that topic. The Academy Awards — the ceremony, the history, the politics of nominations — was our shared wheelhouse. We could fill a fairly polished-sounding hour with little more than a couple notes of reference. Instead, I’ll use the recent television premiere of Agent Carter as inspiration for this week’s retrospective selection. I like the show thus far (and not just because I have a mighty, mighty crush on Hayley Atwell), in part because it builds its immediate post-war setting with a colorful, stylized panache that reminds me of some of the best qualities of the 1991 film The Rocketeer. This is a pretty drab review, I’m afraid. I must have been in a hurry. I do find it amusing that I lead with a note about the flurry of comic book adaptations happening around that time. If only I knew the cinematic landscape still to come.
THE ROCKETEER is the latest film is what is becoming a long line of comic book adaptations. This one is based on the highly acclaimed Dave Stevens character who made his debut in the early 1980s. Stevens took stunt pilot Cliff Secord, gave him a rocket pack for his back, and set his adventures in a highly stylized Hollywood of the 1930s. The new film adaptation captures some of the flavor of Stevens’s stories, and, at its best, it also captures the high-flying, thrill-a-minute-excitement.
Director Joe Johnston, who struck pay dirt two years again with the surprise hit HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS, helms this effort and crafts action sequences that are genuinely thrilling. When the Rocketeer takes to the air, the movie becomes a grand adventure, soaring at incredible speeds and taking the audience along for the ride. The film occasionally stumbles, though, when its feet are planted firmly on the ground. All of the performers in the film are first-rate, but too often they’re stuck with writing that could use some punching up.
Even though slow stretches are there, they don’t last too long before we get another ride on the rocket pack or scene of Timothy Dalton’s wickedly enjoyable performance as the film’s chief villain. For all its flaws, THE ROCKETEER still soars as top-notch entertainment.