In what can only be described as welcome news, Disney has announced its plans to re-launch The Rocketeer with a sequel intended to reboot the property as franchise material – with a black woman as the central hero. The original film was released in 1991 to lacklustre response in theatres – but found a devoted audience later as it settled in to the home entertainment market. The new movie will be titled The Rocketeers.
The Rocketeer is a comic book character, created in 1982 by Dave Stevens, and was designed to be an homage to the heroes of the 1930s and 1940s. His real name is Cliff Secord, and he is a stunt pilot who stumbles upon a strange but functional jet pack. In the original movie, set in 1938 and directed by Joe Johnston, he uses the jet pack to fight Nazis as the Second World War commences. Secord is played by Billy Campbell, and the female lead – his girlfriend – is played by Jennifer Connelly.
The sequel will be written by Max Winkler (Ceremony) and Matt Spicer (Wainy Days) and will be set six years after the original. Cliff Secord has disappeared in the heat of battle against the Nazis, and a young, black, female pilot rises in his place – taking up the jet pack and the cause, and fighting to prevent a villainous scientist appropriating the technology in order to influence the course of the Cold War, for nefarious purposes.
The idea for the sequel and property reboot reportedly came from the sporting world, when Ryan Kalil of the Carolina Panthers and Blake Griffin of the L.A Clippers developed the plot as part of their new Mortal Media venture. They subsequently approached The Jungle Book producer Brigham Taylor with the plan, and Winkler and Spicer were hired to deliver the script. Being in the early stages, there are no casting choices to announce yet, and nor is there a director attached.
It is the fresh, new direction of the movie that is the most exciting thing about The Rocketeer sequel, though, as it promises to deliver something audiences have been clamouring for – heroes that are not white men. With the source material and original movie being what they are, it would have been incredibly simple for Disney to just churn out another white-male-led superhero movie and rake in the inevitable stacks of cash. There is little that is interesting about that, though – not least because, for today’s audiences, it would now be difficult to make it seem like something other than a period Iron Man derivation.
Rather, the studio is making a clean break from that tedious trend by developing a project that is specifically intended to generate an ongoing franchise – without remaking an existing property. This is not a case of making the 1991 film again, with a black woman in the lead and some updated effects. This is a continuation of The Rocketeer story, in which a black woman steps into the fray. Moreover, with a setting that places the action at the end of World War II, and the beginning of the Cold War, this sequel will deliver a film that spotlights the wartime heroics of one of the many demographics that are routinely erased from history. Make no mistake – this is welcome news, and we will be watching closely for further developments.