January 31st, 2012

Star Wars - Fly away...

Red Tails

I went into Red Tails -- the George Lucas-produced World War II film about the Tuskegee Airmen, pioneering African-American pilots, and when they finally started to see air combat -- with carefully-ratcheted expectations, based on the reviews. I can handle old-fashioned and corny, and knew this film had that in spades, as well as "rah rah war can be awesome" cheerleading. You don't see that often in films these past few decades. Even 1990's Memphis Belle, which looks old-fashioned, is more a modern-era "war sucks and we really wish we could find a better way to handle conflict" story.

Except for one quick line, Red Tails skips any "war is hell" rhetoric and goes straight to two problems: people thinking African-Americans couldn't fly (pointed out in a 1920s military study quoted at the very start), and in Scene 1, an immediate problem of fighter escorts not properly escorting their bombers, because the fighters fly off to dogfight with the Germans. Many B-17s go blow-up-y due to that, and pretty on-the-nose dialogue explains it. How oh how will both problems be solved? Quick cut to the Tuskegee Airmen, who (spoiler!) save the day, break some bricks out of the wall of prejudice, banter, fall in love (a pilot named Lightning falls for an Italian girl), and sometimes die, because it's war, a war that killed tens of millions of people (though how many non-Nazis died in this film? Two?).

The people who made Red Tails -- producers George Lucas and Chas. Floyd Johnson, director Anthony Hemingway, writers John Ridley and Aaron McGruder, and it seems like half the cast of The Wire -- have all done better work. I was there for flight-y, shoot-y, explode-y fun, and on that level, as I figured I would, I enjoyed it. But still, better work's been done. But-but, blowing up Nazis For The Win (literally)! I got behind that.

Also, apparently, according to Red Tails, there was only one World War II German pilot with a face. One chiseled, scary, hates-all-good-people face.