With rumors floating around that Disney might be looking into rebooting their 1991 box-office let down, and perpetual underdog comic, The Rocketeer, it seems to be a good time to revisit the original, and acknowledge its highs and lows.
I’ve never been a fan of reboots or remakes. It’s hard enough to improve on a great story, and updating a classic (even a kind of shitty classic) just because you can, doesn’t mean you should (Total Recall). That being said, let’s look at The Rocketeer through the fresh eyes of time, and judge whether or not this is a turd in need of polishing, or a gem that Hollywood is trying to re-cut into a cheap and gaudy stone.
First off, The Rocketeer was a better movie than most give it credit for. The casting could have been stronger, but the story line worked, and it was shot well. The CGI is decidedly late 80’s, but, as was the style at the time, the mix of actual live stunt work combined with CGI made for a better and more realistic shoot than today’s “let’s just do it on computer” mentality.
While the action scenes using the actual rocket weren’t very good, the shootouts, fights, and chases were entertaining. It was the way a guy who could throw a punch in the 1930’s would have fought; not over-the-top flying kung-fu action that everyone seems to know de-facto in most of today’s action flicks. But I think the true saving grace of the movie was who was on the receiving end of said punches.
The Rocketeer featured the two best bad guys of comic-book movies; Gangsters and Nazis. Timothy Dalton did a fantastic job as film star/secret Nazi Neville Sinclair, while Paul Sorvino played the only role he ever gets to play; old-time mobster. They were a great counterpoint to the bland and tasteless Billy Campbell, who looked the part of a 1930’s flyboy, but was about as solid of a leading man as a cardboard cut-out of Billy Campbell. Jennifer Connelly was hot, which was all her character really needed to be, but I feel like that could have been cast better as well. Also, I’m a big fan of finding any way possible to get actors like Terry O’Quinn and Alan Arkin into a period piece movie, since they’ve each been alive for about 376 years.
So, in hind sight, the film is today what it was when it came out in 1991; a fun, family friendly action flick that doesn’t require a lot of deep thinking and soul searching. There are no dark moral choices to be made, or deeply afflicted characters that need fleshing out. It’s shallow, but it’s fun. A solid 3 out of 5. So does a movie like that need a re-boot?
I’d say no: let it lay. In today’s CBM world, there is no place for a remake of the same story. As far as giving it the Dredd treatment, I don’t think that The Rocketeer would work with a darker take on the main character, or a more convoluted story line about deception and intrigue. If Disney is dead set on doing a remake (and they’re Disney, so this article isn’t going to stop them), I’d say that all they should focus on is fixing the weak casting, and utilizing better special effects. He’s THE ROCKETEER; he should be using the rocket in more dynamic ways, such as rocket-punching Hitler, or in mid-air fights with bi-planes, instead of just letting his “super power” be “awesome mode of transportation.”
As I’ve said in previous articles, the reason Hollywood is going in on so many reboots and remakes is because they know that a market already exists for these flicks. If I was going to lay out $100 million for a movie, I might want to hedge my bet as well. However, there are a ton of movies out there that are sleeping dogs that just need to be left well-enough alone. The Rocketeer is one such film. If you get the chance, go back and re-watch this movie with a couple friends and a couple beers. However, I doubt that a newer version would be worth the price of admission.