If this is TL;DR for you, the shortest way I can tell you how much I enjoyed this movie is to say this: “I would watch it again” and “Helen Mirren with a sniper rifle”.
There are some mild spoilers in this post.
It’s not the kind of movie like Real Genius or The Karate Kid or even Hunt for Red October (all of which are movies I cheerfully watch any time they’re on TV), but Red is the best action flick I’ve seen in a long time. It had great tone, great cast and Helen Mirren with a sniper rifle.
While I am a comic book reader, I have to admit I’ve never read Red. Red was a three issue comic, by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, about Paul Moses, a retired CIA spy whom the CIA decides to kill, and that doesn’t exactly work out correctly to the point that he goes on the warpath killing them back. Red the movie is about Frank Moses, a retired CIA spy whom the CIA decides to kill, and that doesn’t exactly work out correctly, to the point that he gets his old friends together to find out why and stop them with wackiness ensuing.
The movie is clearly an adaptation on the same theme, however it is not the comic.
If you are a huge fan of the comics, you should read what Warren Ellis said about the adaptation.
If you’re not a huge fan of the comics, here’s what you need to know about the movie. Helen Mirren with a sniper rifle.
No, really. My partner isn’t the biggest comic freak and tends to ignore my collections. And I would never consider subjecting her to anything other than my 100 issue Dick Tracy Collection. The point, though, is that I said that line to her (unknowing that Warren Ellis said the same thing!) and she said “Okay, I’m in!”
I’m of the opinion that certain stories must be told 100% truthfully (when you give Great Expectations a super happy ending, I want to remove body parts — Even Dickens wanted the ending to be unhappy!). There are certain parts of stories that can be easily manipulated and still be totally enjoyable. Just look at all the modern retellings of Shakespeare and how he can be adapted, tweaked and modernized a thousand times over, while still being a good tale.
So past all that, the thing that struck me as hilarious was I had just re-read Transmetropolitan, which is the quintessential Warren Ellis work, and about ten minutes into the movie I said “Oh my god! Ellis’ filthy assistants sold the rights to Red to AmFeed fiction!”
Look, I know a lot of purists are going to slag me, but the movie works! The love interest subplot is so that we can have Mary-Louise Parker play exposition fairy and explain things to the audience. She’s a trope. Bruce Willis playing the retired best-of-the-best super spy is also a trope (okay, that’s kind of how I picture Bruce Willis in my head in everything since Die Hard). John Malkovitch plays a trope particular to Ellis, in that he’s an LSD-addled former CIA spy/conspiracy theorist (yeah, Ellis uses that kind of character often enough that it’s like Hunter S. Thompson with a crossbow). Helen Mirren is a Martha Stewart with a sniper rifle. Brian Cox’s turn as the Russian spy is just your standard Russian spy trope. Morgan Freeman is possibly the least developed character of the lot, but he also is the retired hero dying of cancer trope (you see where that’s going, right?). Karl Urban is the young buck spy who has to kill the old guys (the new hero trope).
Take all these tropes and the movie could have been dull and boring. They managed to take it, spin it with the right mix of gravitas and meta and wit, paint it with a veneer of comic book without pandering, and then someone handed Helen freakin’ Mirren a sniper rifle.
Watch this movie. It’s worth it.