Having seen it, I am convinced that the negative reviews are inspired by the trend to shit on anything made by George Lucas. Sure, this movie wasn't written by Lucas (it's actually written by John Ridley, of THREE KINGS, and Aaron McGruder) nor directed by him (directed by Anthony Hemingway, who has had an impressive TV directing career). But this is George's passion project and has been for around two decades. Also, the fact that Lucas, as essentially the money behind the project, defined the manner in which it would be delivered to the masses, seems to be a major factor in the negative hype.
If you don't know what RED TAILS is about, let me break it down very quickly. During World War 2, there were these highly intelligent, highly qualified Africa-Americans who were not allowed to fly airplanes because of massive racism in the country. Some people (maybe even most) truly believed that black people didn't possess the intellect or physical ability to fly airplanes. When it was decided to let African-Americans have the chance to fly, the War Department tried to subvert the process by increasing the requirements to ridiculous levels. Unfortunately for them, the pilots who eventually became part the Tuskegee Airmen, met and exceeded those standards. A few months into the pilot training program, then first lady Eleanor Roosevelt took a check ride with one of the trainers and proclaimed the unit fit. From that point on, the Tuskegee Airmen became a big story and it became more difficult for them to be simply swept under the rug.
Unfortunately, this movie doesn't deal with any of that. It instead puts us right into the Tuskegee Airmen flying missions in Italy, something that was an entire ordeal in itself and would probably have elevated this movie in the eyes of some critics. Yes, I think it was a mistake to not include this bit of history in some form (it is somewhat referenced in the movie but to no great extent) but Lucas wanted this to be more of an old-time action movie with a mostly black cast, and he sure got that.
I don't want to write a traditional review where I break down the story, you can find about 300 of those all over the Internet. Instead let me define a few things. First of all, World War 2 fighter planes, and the history surrounding them, has been something of a passion of mine since I was about 11. I've studied nearly every single thing there is to know about the aircrafts, for all sides, and the history behind the different squadrons and fighter groups. So, I went into this knowing too well the history behind the events either depicted, incorrectly depicted, or not depicted in the movie.
As promised by George Lucas, it is light on history. Some settings are accurate, and we do get a side story about a captured pilot that is based on fact. We also see the fate of one of the pilots that is based in some respects on history, and a couple of action sequences are based on actions by the 332nd. But for the most part the movie skirts around history. This should have bothered me more than it did but I was surprised to find myself able to avoid being hyper critical.
There is a fair amount of drama in this popcorn action movie, but it isn't as cartoony as I expected. Reading other reviews, I went in thinking the whole movie was a live action comic-book but it's more like an old-school war movie. It is a bit corny but seems to drift fairly easily between something made for kids and something made for adults.
ACTION V. REALISM
This thing is full of action. And despite the trailers making me think the planes would move unrealistically, like they did in the horrifically shitty movie PEARL HARBOR, I was only bothered by a couple of scenes. The planes seemed to move around in some realm of reality and the pilots (outside of one) didn't fly around with their oxygen masks off at 30,000 feet, something that I was fully expecting later in the movie. My biggest gripe is that we didn't get enough point-of-view dogfight moments where we could see the combat from the perspective of the pilot. I think that is far more dynamic than constantly moving out of the cockpit to look at the planes.
There is a fair bit of banter between the pilots as they joke around the way young men do and likely did. Perhaps the language they use isn't accurate to the time (I don't know) but it added a lot of personality to the different individuals, and helped later in the movie when most of their faces were covered by the oxygen mask.
I think this is where Lucas nailed his idea of making it accessible to teenagers. The characters have unique personalities that make it easy to root for, or against if you like, these individuals. When one of them is shot down, or dies, or is captured, you feel for them and their friends. However, by making this more of a popcorn action flick instead of a straight up action drama, the movie never rises above being an enjoyable action movie. It doesn't feel very deep on any level. Even when it tries to inject depth to a couple of our characters (one an alcoholic, the other in love with a local girl) it only seems to barely get there. This is where making this a more serious movie would have benefited.
RED TAILS is a good action movie that could have been better had the filmmakers taken it more seriously. Still, it is worth catching and is easily the best WW2 flight combat movie made by Americans since 1990 (MEMPHIS BELL). Plus, having a nearly all African-American cast should be applauded since I am sure there are many black kids all around the world who have never seen a movie quite like it.
If I had to rate it, I'd give it:
78 out of 100
It is nowhere near as bad as some critics would have you believe. It is not as good as I bet the filmmakers were trying to make it either. But you won't regret watching it unless you are really pissed off and want to hate it. George Lucas deserves a break, people. This is the best thing Lucas has produced since "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Raiders of the Lost Arc." No, it's not as good as those but I figure they'll now use that in their promotions.
This is the best thing Lucas has produced since "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Raiders of the Lost Arc." -- GeekFurious.com
No? Oh well, a man can dream.