In honor of the new Bruce Willis movie Red, which was released in theaters this past weekend, I recently went back to read the DC comic book series Red created by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, from which the film was adapted.
Both the comic book and the movie center around Frank Moses (Willis’s character), a retired CIA agent who’s thrust back into the world of danger when he’s attacked by highly trained unknown assailants. The over-the-hill action-comedy film brought out the older generations to the theater in droves, thanks to the change in the story’s overall tone (from serious to light-hearted), as well as (in my opinion) the creation of Helen Mirren‘s character Victoria, another retiree whose sexy looks and stellar aim with a sniper rifle probably make her the most lethal of the bunch.
There were quite a few differences between the movie and the 3-issue miniseries, mostly in the addition of new characters — played by Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, and Brian Cox — as well as alternations to the Frank Moses character and his situation, along with plenty of deviations from the original story.
Here’s the Top 3 differences between the film and the comic book.
1. From serious action comic to action-comedy film.
The comic has a very serious feel to it and is very dark, violent, and bloody, but in a realistic way. Frank is retired, but he’s still in top form and looks as though he could snap someone’s neck in a second. He still has all the knowledge of his training and the experience from all of his former missions. When comic book Frank is up against a foe, there’s no chance for them, and you believe it. The film, though, is presented as an action-comedy with lots of comic relief and over-the-top scenarios. Seeing the mild-mannered Willis shuffle around in his home in his robe makes it difficult to believe that when he’s attacked, that he’s actually a deadly assassin ready for the fight. Even later on in the film when Frank and his cohorts are faced with danger at every turn, the film takes every opportunity to throw in a one-liner or make an out-of-place joke. You almost forget that these people are being hunted down to be killed!
2. From revenge comic to conspiracy film.
The comic is purely a revenge story. Someone has come after Frank and he doesn’t know why, but when he finds out, it’s all about getting even. He’s been trying to live out his life quietly in retirement, though it’s been a struggle. He seemingly needs very little human companionship and what he does get are regular letters to him from his niece and frequent calls to his ‘handler’ — the woman who handles his pension checks (Sarah, played in the film by Mary-Louise Parker). While the film begins with Frank trying to find out who’s after him, it quickly turns into a conspiracy theory mess as dirty dealings with higher-ups in the government are revealed and Frank turns out to be the guy who just happens to know everything. The comic leaves it up to your imagination as to what exactly Frank knows and how high up this plot goes, but the film has so much explanations that you have to wonder why Frank was allowed to retire in the first place.
3. From one man’s lone quest to over-the-hill ‘one last mission’ adventure.
Red story goes from being the story of one man against the world in the comic to a film about one old geezer and his merry band of even older geezers cock-and-loading their weapons for one last hoorah. The illustrated Frank had no friends, no former associates to call on. Film Frank not only has an old gang, but one that’s willing to risk their lives for him. The film becomes really about a group of old retired operatives who are so unhappy with the quiet life that they’ll risk everything to go out and kill again, even if it means life in prison or imminent death.
Additional contributions by Jedi of Doom.