Admittedly, I haven’t seen much of any 1930s Saturday matinee serials, so when I say that Star Wars and Indiana Jones are homages to those, all I can say is that I know that they’re homages to those. Given Star Wars and Indiana Jones‘s influence on filmmaking since their releases, today’s summer blockbusters are essentially homages to homages.
With that said, The Rocketeer is a pretty good Indiana Jones wannabe.
Before Disney bought the rights to Indiana Jones, the Rocketeer was essentially their own attempt at Indiana Jones, if Indiana Jones were a steampunk pseudo-superhero sporting a jetpack of mysterious origins sought after by the feds and a group of gangsters hired by a Hollywood movie star. So yeah, it’s more Indiana Jones in pulp, eventually Nazi-bashing 1930s spirit, which got director Joe Johnston the job of eventually directing the also wonderful Captain America: The First Avenger, than it is in globe-trotting excitement.
However, not only the lack of recognition for its graphic novel source material but also the Disney label—which, as demonstrated in here through a couple of risque and fairly violent and moments, is edgier than it’s culturally given credit for—brought the film a disappointing box-office performance at first release that prevented the film from reaching a status as iconic as Raiders. It also lacked big names for the time; Timothy Dalton, Jennifer Connelly, and Alan Arkin had been around, but the relatively unknown Billy Campbell in the lead wasn’t enough to draw a significant crowd. By now, the film has earned at least a cult status.
It doesn’t try to be more than a simple, charming, feel-good adventure that leaves a smile on your face, and that’s not a criticism. The characters are likable enough, and the film excels in its literally high-flying action scenes.
While I wouldn’t call myself a huge Raiders fan (I prefer Last Crusade), if there’s one thing that rivals Indiana Jones, it’s James Horner’s musical score whose “Rocketeer to the Rescue” theme wondrously embodies the freedom of flight. The pulpy fun wouldn’t be as memorable without it.