Director Ryan Little won several awards (justifiably) for his 2003 war film Saints & Soldiers. Nine years later, he’s completed the sort-of-sequel to Saints & Soldiers, Airborne Creed (official site) which is currently playing in local theaters.
Airborne Creed has no direct connection to the previous Saints & Soldiers film other than the WWII setting. (Corbin Allred, whom you might recognize from the first film, plays a different character this time around.) The general theme is the same and even though (like most “sequels”) Airborne Creed doesn’t equal or surpass the original film in any particular way, fans of the first Saints & Soldiers will probably enjoy this latest iteration as well.
The story takes place in 1944, several weeks after D-Day. Squads of US airborne paratroopers have dropped into occupied France to aid the Allied war efforts against the Nazi army. Sergeant Jones (David Nibley — The Best Two Years), and Corporals Rossi (Corbin Allred — Saints & Soldiers) and Curtis (Jasen Wade — 17 Miracles) end up landing several miles from the Ally rendezvous point behind enemy lines. In constant danger from roving German patrols, the three work towards rejoining the US army, but get sidetracked by an encounter with local French resisters. Should they delay their mission and risk their lives to help the locals fight off the German invasion?
As with the first Saints & Soldiers (and 2008′s Forever Strong), Ryan Little shows command of the camera, with good cinematography and competently staged battle scenes. The question — as with most sequels — is whether there’s anything new here. Is there a compelling reason to go back to the well again, showing us things we already saw the first time? One subtheme of Airborne Creed is the struggle against dehumanizing the enemy during war time. One airborne trooper shows mercy to a captured German soldier near the beginning of the movie, who in turn shows mercy for another captured US soldier later. There’s a meaningful scene later where they (despite the language barrier) communicate their feelings towards their family and about the war they are in. Well acted, but again just a direct repeat of themes from the first Saints & Soldiers (and done better there).
Airborne Creed has weaker characterizations and drags a little when there aren’t battles going on and soldiers are just sitting around talking to each other. Each of the three mains has a basic one-sentence description: Jones comes from a religious family, Rossi likes to fight, and Curtis takes pictures and has a girlfriend at home. Since we know from the beginning some of the soldiers aren’t going to survive to the end, the lack of strong characters hurts (even more so when the members of the French resistance show up, most of whom may as well have been wearing “EXPENDABLE” nametags.)
The original had a compelling narrative that drove the plot — getting vital information about German movements back to the HQ while it was still useful. In Airborne Creed, the plot is more haphazard, without an overarching mission that compels the characters forward. The party captures some Germans who confess to working with a local French informant — set up as a major plot point, but dropped afterwards. Later the party takes on a German tank and associated infantry for no known reason other than, I guess, ‘it was there’. It’s not much of a spoiler to say they succeed (not without casualties) but to what end? There’s no sense at the end of the film that the survivors have actually accomplished anything of note.
The first Saints & Soldiers directly addressed the issues of belief versus unbelief, but in Airborne Creed, the religious material is downplayed. Sergeant Jones is the only religious character (that we can tell) and the dialogue between characters doesn’t have any deep discussions about the meaning of life or death. There’s only a tenuous implication that Jones’s religious beliefs play into his actions during the film. I don’t think any of the characters are supposed to be LDS (Jones has Catholic and Baptist parents)
although Rossi — confusingly — comments about shaving a mohawk into his head by saying “our entire stake did it”. LDS stake? The other characters don’t ask what a “stake” is and there’s no other indication afterwards that he (or any of the others) is supposed to be Mormon. [UPDATE: Explained in the comments -- I misheard] War films don’t need deep religious discussions to be successful, but since the title of the series is “Saints” & Soliders, it seems to be a missed opportunity to look more closely at the role of religion and belief in times of war (especially since the first film did).
In the end I enjoyed Airborne Creed, but couldn’t escape the question of why it existed. Since most of the story and thematic elements were present (and done better) in the original film, I don’t know what special or unique angle Ryan Little saw in the screenplay (written by Lincoln Hoppe and Lamont Gray) to drive him to make another Saints & Soldiers film covering the same material. Little knows what he’s doing as director, and Airborne Creed shows off his strengths — you almost get the sense Airborne Creed may exist as a “try-out reel”, a resume-builder for him to show bigger studios that he can handle a larger budget war film. Airborne Creed is decent and well-produced, and like most sequels will probably be entertaining to fans of the first even while feeling unnecessary at the same time.
Final Grade: B