The Rocketeer, based on the comic book series by the late great Dave Stevens, while a delightful movie, was a bomb when released in theaters. It came in fourth behind Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, City Slickers and Dying Young it’s opening weekend and only grossed $46 million at the box office on a $35 million dollar budget. The film did capture quite the cult following though and years later The Rocketeer is still a cosplay favorite at conventions. Disney is set to bring The Rocketeer back to the big screen with a sequel, with a twist.
Here’s the synopsis of the original The Rocketeer:
Cliff Secord (Bill Campbell) is a cocky stunt pilot in love with a beautiful actress, Jenny Blake (Jennifer Connelly). When he discovers a jet pack hidden in a biplane, Cliff straps on the rocket, dons a flashy helmet and becomes the high-flying hero known as The Rocketeer. But when Nazis want to use the rocket as a weapon, Cliff must use his alter ego to both protect Jenny from an evil actor (Timothy Dalton) and save the day in this period adventure based on the comic books by Dave Stevens.
Now Disney is in the early development stage with Max Winkler and Matt Spicer having been hired to write the script which will reboot the franchise with a sequel. The big twist that was mentioned? The film will be headlined by a black female character.
Before anyone goes racing to the comments section, let’s look a little closer. The story is set six years after the original film, that puts the time frame just after the end of the war and the beginning of the Cold War. The Russians and Americans were scrambling to grab up all the German scientists. That is an interesting time period to have the Rocketeer return, lot’s of spy-like action and clock and dagger happenings as well as the early beginnings of the Civil Rights movement.
Here’s the confusing part of the announcement. This is a quote from The Hollywood Reporter post:
It was around that time that the studio began mulling a reboot of the movie, but sources said it sought a way to differentiate it from another rocket-propelled flying hero: Iron Man.
Now it seems that someone at Disney isn’t keeping up with what’s happening over at Marvel Comics where The Invincible Iron Man has just been replaced with… wait for it… a 15-year-old African-American girl named Riri Williams.
If Disney is really trying to differentiate the Rocketeer from Iron Man this move seems to be a strange way to do that. Now many folks are going to get all up in arms about this, and it does seem to be the new Hollywood go-to-thing when trying to reboot a franchise, but there’s another side to this announcement that makes a heck of a lot more sense if the writers use it.
Have you ever heard of Mildred Carter? She was the only African-American woman to apply to join the WASPS, the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots during World War Two. Her application was basically denied when she was asked to withdraw her application due to her race. Carter had earned her pilot’s license at the Tuskegee Institute’s civilian air training school. The same place the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces trained, the famous “Red Tails” pilots of World War II, better known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
Now if the writers take Carter’s story and merge it with the Rocketeer’s that would make a compelling reason for the changes and make it stand out from other movies. The sequel would find our African-American female pilot:
…who takes up the mantle of Rocketeer in an attempt to stop an ambitious and corrupt rocket scientist from stealing jet-pack technology in what could prove to be a turning point in the Cold War.
There are some interesting tales to tell there and one would hope that the production would not shy away from the terrible racial tensions of the time. It’s easy to imagine the Rocketeer in full costume saving someone only to see that person’s gratitude change because of their racial bias when the rocketeer removes her helmet.
If they are going to make this change, make it count for something.