Blow up all the things!
Red Tails, the newest movie from the loved and hated Executive Producer George Lucas (who may be retiring soon), covers the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, who maintained one of the best records of World War II. The story tells of a small(ish) group within this larger group of war heroes, who bravely fought the very racist Nazis on behalf of the slightly less racist Americans.
First, I feel I should start where the movie does: the opening credits. These had to be the worst opening credits I’ve ever seen in a movie. Overtop of a rather dramatic scene, during which a bunch of arrogant idiots get themselves and a bunch of other people killed trying to up their kill count, we get some huge, blocky, ugly red font that tells us all the pertinent people and completely ruins the intensity of the scene. I’m not sure if it was the large, garish font, or the name Red Tails, but for some reason my head goes straight to the theme song for DuckTales (which really would have been a vast improvement).
Once all that bullshit is done with, however, we get to the meat of the movie, seeing our first glimpse of the characters we’ll be following for the majority of the time. The list of people in this movie is extremely long, and quite a few get lost between the cracks. Perhaps the greatest difficulty in making this movie was telling the story of so many incredible people. It becomes hard to keep track, and a lot of the characters fall by the wayside at various points.
For those characters that did stand out, they are (for the most part) fairly well written. Most of the lines are well-delivered, and those character flaws that do show up are fairly subtle and realistic. Not one of the horrible racist stereotypes one might fear from a movie centering around African Americans appears, which is a pleasant surprise. (Side note: it’s depressing that Hollywood has such a terrible history of writing African Americans that I assume a racist stereotype will be present).
Speaking of racism, the movie does an excellent job of not sugar-coating the extreme racism these pilots encountered at every turn. We are clearly shown that, unlike any white man in the American Army, the African American pilots had to fight every step of the way to have their skill and bravery acknowledged. It isn’t until they prove themselves that the other officers start to reevaluate their positions and realize that they’ve been acting like total jackasses. The movie also makes a point that, for some people, there is no way to earn that respect. Sometimes prejudice is so deep, so hateful, that nothing changes their unreasonable hatred. It is a sad truth, and is acknowledged in Red Tails.
Let’s be honest. This is a movie based entirely on fighter pilots fighting Nazis. There is one thing we all wanted from this movie, and that is some sweet explosions and flight choreography. Even if you hate the depiction of the Tuskegee Airmen and find the acting stilted and emotionless, there is one thing that must be admitted. There are some badass stunts and explosions in this movie. They blow up a Nazi Train! And a Nazi Destroyer! And many Nazi Airplanes! Basically anything and everything Nazi, they blow up, and it looks AWESOME. On top of that, there are some really cool stunts done with the planes, and all of it looks rather realistic.
Overall, this is a pretty cool movie that addresses the sensitive topic of racism in a way that isn’t entirely terrible. All too often the stories of African Americans, Native Americans and women in World War II are completely neglected, and it is awesome to see these contributions recognized at all. Mix that with some of the best portrayals of African Americans Hollywood has produced and a lot of really awesome explosions, and you have Red Tails (oooh oooh!).