*There are light spoilers ahead so tread carefully.*
After the build-up last week to see George Lucas’ Red Tails, Miss Moneypenny and I ventured out to the movies for the first time since my birthday in May. While braving the rain and developing a new-found dislike for seagulls we copped two tickets, some popcorn, a couple of Icees, and took our seats. [i] As I expressed last week I had my potential issues with what Red Tails may be so it was time to see what was what.
Going in I knew the movie wasn’t going to be an Oscar worthy venture but my interest was still piqued as the lights dimmed. [ii] So with a few light spoilers here’s what I think.
The 332nd’s progression of aircraft was an excellent touch. When the film started they were flying Curtiss P-40 Warhawks which by 1944 were antiquated. When the United States officially entered the war P-40’s had been already in the Army’s inventory and had been found wanting due to the prior use by the English and Commonwealth nations via the illegal lend-lease program and the Flying Tigers in China. The 332nd’s upgrade to the P-51 D near the middle of the film properly illustrated how most American fighter pilots felt about Mustangs. It was simply faster, could carry more gas, more bullets, and it had a much higher flight ceiling than just about every other single-engine propeller-driven aircraft in the world. As a comparison think of all fighter aircraft as luxury cars made by the same company. Next think of a P-40 as a 3-Series Beamer (Just the base model, not the M3). Then think of the P-51D as a 7-Series. They are both fighter planes and the comparison stop there. If the prequel and sequel happen I would love to see the pilots use the original plan the airmen started out with, the P-39 Airacobra (Again using the luxury car comparison, imagine Kia attempted to make a high performance coup.) and the P-47 Thunderbolt which was a great plane and basically a flying tank.
The Script and the Pg-13 Rating (1) *Sigh* The Script was poorly done. I’ll just be honest. Ridley and McGruder either took the easy way out or were hamstrung by the desire to make this a PG-13 family friendly film for a much larger audience. Lucas did say that he wanted the movie to inspire black youth so that could be that. If all things in Hollywood were equal, which they aren’t, this movie would have been better with an R-rating. I’m essentially saying they should have gone full-on Private Ryan with Red Tails. There was no swearing at all. From what I’ve read of aerial combat you’re basically throwing yourself through the air in a space smaller then a phone booth, covered in sweat, with chunks of lead being fired at you. Oh and don’t forget all of that combustible fuel and ammo you have. In other words it’s nightmarish. If I’m a pilot or crew member on a bomber which makes you a sitting duck the thought of being defenseless would make me utter “m*****f***er” a lot. [iii] I just felt the balance between life and death could have been conveyed more with harsher language and a higher rating.
The Script and the Pg-13 Rating (1a) the characters: Ne-Yo’s character was bad. His portrayal of a southerner was almost a caricature. He was basically C.J. Memphis with lieutenant’s bars and pilot’s wings. His use of chewing tobacco didn’t bother me as much as his lines and action did. Country =/= uncouth or uneducated.[iv] The relationship between the officers and the crew chief, Coffee (Andre Arroyo) seemed spot on from what I know. Yes, they outranked him but as a first sergeant he had obtained the highest rank enlisted personnel could attain in the Army at the time. Under his care their planes would have been expertly maintained to keep them alive. Overall there was little character development which you seldom get in action movies. There’s simply no time for it unless multiple films or episodes are used.
The Luftwaffe (The German air force) pilot was a great foil. I think his role should have been expanded a bit though. The arrogant Teutonic snarl on his face when he uttered “Those pilots are African.” was great. Combine that with the scar and his use of the word “African” as a substitute for “nigger” and you get the perfect bad guy.
The love story between Lightening and Sofia was not needed. I’ve watched a ton of war movies and only once has the insertion of a love story into the plot not ruined the movie. It muddled the plot down. Their relationship would have been better suited for a separate film just about their relationship and not a distraction.
In all I think Red Tails was a safe movie. Safe in a way that action/war films were done in the 40’s and 50’s as opposed to modern versions. It was more Flying Leathernecks than Thin Red Line. I’m fine with that and needless to say Red Tail’s isn’t perfect by any means but I did enjoy watching it because it got a lot of things correct in a manner that blacks in war films haven’t had the luxury of before. It’s a start and if the earning persists Lucas wants to do a prequel and sequel which would give other producers a chance to flex their muscles. It’s a foot in the door that shouldn’t have to be pried open but that’s life. If you don’t see in the theater check it out on Netflix or however you watch movies.
I’m sure I’m missing something but chime in with your thoughts. I’m interesting to hear what others think.
Vaya con Dios.
[i] The parking lot smelled like crab crack in one hundred degree heat in July that has gone on for two hours too many. The trees adjacent to the IMAX were fill will seagulls whose guano smelled like a dumpster behind a fish market.
[ii] Even the Tyler Perry film in the previews looked kind of watchable.
[iii] Side note, I’m not a pilot or crew member on a bomber but I do say “m*****f***er” a lot.
[iv] I’m getting touchy about my southernism in my old age.