It’s been a while since I’ve looked at a movie based on a comic series, which feels strange considering this started off as a comic blog. Red, released in 2010, is loosely based on a 3 issue miniseries by the same name back in 2003. Red was published by Homage Comics, written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Cully Hamner. On that note, Homage Comics is owned by DC Comics. Because of this movie, a 40-page prequel and four one-shots were also released, and are collected together in a collection called Better R.E.D. Than Dead. The prequel was both written and drawn by Hamner. Although Ellis didn’t contribute, he gave his blessing to the project.
Anyway, Red is about a bunch of retired spies and assassins who reunite when someone starts hunting down several of them, along with other targets. It’s an action comedy featuring a bunch of Hollywood veterans, including Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Brian Cox and Richard Dreyfuss. It even features a cameo from Ernest Borgnine.
Gregory Noveck, a DC Comics representative in Hollywood, wanted a movie based on the comic, but Warner Bros wasn’t interested. It took several years to get the permission from Warner Bros to take the project elsewhere. This actually makes Red the first DC comics based film not produced by Warner Bros since they purchased DC in 1989. Shortly after they acquired the rights, Summit Entertainment took on the project, with brothers Erich and Jon Hoeber adapting the screenplay. They also adapted Whiteout from comics to the big screen, and wrote a film adaptation of American McGee’s Alice, a dark, violent interpretation of Alice In Wonderland. That film fell through after years of development struggles.
Shortly after Summit Entertainment took on the project, the casting fell into place. Willis was the first major cast member to be announced, taking on the lead role of Frank Moses in April 2009. Robert Schwentke (The Time Traveler’s Wife, Flightplan) agreed to direct shortly after, and Freeman signed on next. In November of that year, Mirren, John C. Reilly and Mary-Louise Parker also joined. Parker plays a federal pension worker who’s got a mutual attraction going on with Frank Moses, and unwittingly gets involved with the story. Dreyfuss and Cox joined the cast soon after.
In December, Reilly left the project, to be replaced by Malkovich. Meanwhile, Karl Urban (Eomer in Lord of the Rings, McCoy in the Star Trek Reboot trilogy, Skurge in Thor; Ragnorok) joined on as an active CIA agent.
Most of the filming took place in Toronto, Canada, with a bit of filming in New Orleans and Louisiana. During the filming, Ellis read the script and shared with his mailing list, “Not the book, but not bad. Funny. Especially when you know the casting … Who wouldn’t want to see Helen Mirren with a sniper rifle?”
Although Red was expected to succeed, it wasn’t expected to be a major hit. It went through a minimalistic advertising campaign and quietly released in October, 2010. It ended up earning $199 million worldwide on a $60 million budget. Combined with the minimal advertising, Red surpassed expectations enough to start working on a sequel immediately. It also received generally positive reviews, holding a 72% rating on Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 6.4/10. Variety called the movie an “amusing, light-footed caper about a team of aging CIA veterans rudely forced out of retirement.” The Hollywood Reporter said in their review, “Although tailor-made for genre fans, it benefits from flavours of humour and romance that keep its appeal from being fanboy-only.” Roger Ebert gave it a 2 out of 4, calling it “neither a good movie nor a bad one.”
Red didn’t win any major awards, but it did earn four Saturn nominations, a Golden Globe nomination for Best Musical or Comedy, and won a couple of awards from smaller award ceremonies, including the Movies for Grownups Awards giving Mirren a Breakthrough Achievement award. The Grownups Award mostly focuses on movies meant for 50+ crowds. It was also nominated for Fight Scene of the Year at the Scream awards, along with Best Ensemble, Best Thriller, and Best Supporting Actress.
Red is a bit of an acquired taste in a sense. Although I enjoyed watching this movie when it came out, and I still enjoy it now, in a lot of ways it’s meant more for the middle-aged crowd and up. It’s the cast that really makes this movie work. Willis stars as Frank Moses, a retired CIA black ops operative who’s trying to live a quiet life. He regularly rips up his pension checks as an excuse to speak with Parker’s character, Sarah Ross. She enjoys her conversations with Frank, but she’s bored with her job and bored with the men she’s dating in her city, yearning for an adventure. Of course after a wet squad attacks Frank’s house and tries to kill him, he’s forced to take her on that adventure to save her life, even if she’s very resistant to the idea at first.
Willis is great in this movie. He shows a fair amount of range. At times, he’s cold and determined, showing what a hardened warrior Frank is. At other times, he’s sarcastic, showing off his comedic skills at full force. There are other times where he shows off his dramatic skills, especially when he’s trying to comfort Sarah early on, or when their attraction starts to deepen. It’s also worth noting that he’s in his late 50’s when he filmed this movie, yet he’s still a great action movie star. He clearly took good care of himself over the years.
Parker is also quite entertaining. At first she’s terrified about Frank “kidnapping her”, but as the story goes on, she gets more and more excited about being in the middle of a spy thriller. Honestly though, it’s the rest of the veteran cast that makes this movie as entertaining as it is. Malkovich plays the very paranoid Marvin Boggs, partly because they gave him LSD daily for a year as part of an experiment. He’s convinced that the government is constantly trying to kill him and it colours every aspect of his performance. What’s even funnier is that he’s often right with his suspicions … at least within the story.
Mirren plays a retired MI6 agent who runs a Bed and Breakfast … while taking contracts on the side. She clearly loves being a spy/assassin. Cox plays a retired FSB agent (the successor to the KJB), and he’s awesomely apathetic whenever he’s doing his thing. Urban plays William Cooper, a current CIA black ops agent tasked with killing Frank. He’s entertaining in that as the movie goes on, he slowly realizes that not only is he way out of his league, but he might be hunting the good guy.
It’s best not to say anything about the story, as part of the fun is watching the story play out. That’s not to say that it’s an especially compelling story. It’s got twists and turns, and it digs into themes of government corruption that feel quite relevant today, but it’s mostly a popcorn flick. It’s the characters and the actors behind them that make this movie work.
Whether you enjoy this movie or not depends on how much you enjoy the clips I shared. If you enjoyed them, then I would recommend this movie. If you thought they were just ok, this movie is skippable. I watched this and The Whole Nine Yards as my two choices for a Bruce Willis comedy, and although The Whole Nine Yards was also entertaining, I chose this one because it’s the better of the two, and it highlights how Willis was still a good action movie star even into his early 60’s.
Next week, I’ll be looking at a big, dumb movie to close off Bruce Willis month. I’ll be watching Armageddon, an early Michael Bay movie about a cast of cowboys blowing up an asteroid that’s heading for Earth. It’s big, it’s obnoxious, and it’s entertainingly stupid. Sounds like a good way to close this month off. Next month, I’ll be watching all four Fantastic Four movies, and if I have time, I’ll throw in Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. I’m sure I’ll at least have time for Spider-Man. In August, I’ll probably catch up on Disney/Pixar with Encanto, Luca, Turning Red, and I may also rewatch both Meet the Robinsons and Disney’s animated Robin Hood for a re-evaluation of both. If I do that, I’ll re-evaluate both in the same blog post. I watched them both back in 2017 as part of my complete Disney Animation Studios blogathon, but I feel that a second viewing may change my opinion of both.