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Directed by Dan Bradley
Screenplay by Carl Ellsworth, Jeremy Passmore
Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson, Adrianne Palicki, Isabel Lucas, Connor Cruise, Jeffrey Dean Morgan
How long is Red Dawn? 114 minutes.
What is Red Dawn rated? PG-13 for sequences of intense war violence and action, and for language.
Avenge No One!
The original Red Dawn from 1984 is the type of movie whose overall quality is forever tied to its nostalgia elements, a quality common among many films of the decade. Also typical among movies of that era was Cold War paranoia. Hollywood got a lot of usage out of the American-Soviet conflict, and Red Dawn is among its most notable examples. Written and directed by John Milius, the film featured Russia invading the United States and a gang of high school students (the Wolverines) fighting against invading forces in order to take back their home.
Switching the invading forces to North Korea (originally China, but one must consider the economic potential), this 2012 remake lacks such a real world counterpart, and thus loses something in translation. Although Red Dawn 2012 begins with a collection of news clips of people such as Joe Biden talking, they don’t give it a sense of “this could happen.” Instead, these clips, which, to show drama, become increasingly zoomed in and pixelated, seem haphazardly chosen, as though director Dan Bradley thought having newsreaders saying random words in close-up would create an increasing sense of urgency. (The above linked articles mention that when China was the villain, the original reason for the invasion was that the US defaulted on its debt, which at least gives some reason behind the movie’s plot.)
Also, changing the location from the Mid-West to the Pacific Northwest, Red Dawn 2012 introduces us to a new pack of Wolverines. Led by Chris Hemsworth as United States Marine Jed Eckert (originally played by Patrick Swayze), the pack is rounded out with his brother Matt (Josh Peck), his quasi-girlfriend Toni (Adrianne Palicki), Robert’s girlfriend Erica (Isabel Lucas), and their friends who never really get personalities. Along the way, they encounter a platoon of three Marines (led by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who were sent to aid the Wolverines in capturing a special communications device.
Unlike the original film, which begins the invasion with an eerie sequence as paratroopers silently float into the schoolyard, this one makes sure to hit you with sounds blaring. Houses rattle, planes fall out of the sky, guns rat-a-tat-tat, and thousands of paratroopers occupy the sky. It lacks the visceral impact from the first film and doesn’t provide anything of comparable intensity. However, it does prepare you for the rest of the movie — a redundant exercise of gunfire and explosions. Once the film kicks into the second act, it becomes incredibly repetitive as the Wolverines lurk, wait for a distraction (read: explosion), and then open fire on the occupying troops. While these sequences are decently done, at least at first, they end up horribly redundant. And the ease with which our heroes seem to have unlimited ammo only lessens the sense of danger.
The quieter moments during lulls in the action show even greater weaknesses in the film. While the main actors (such as Hemsworth and Peck) do a decent job, most of the others are very weak, and the script doesn’t do much to improve on them. We get no sense of camaraderie between the Wolverines and their “training” is condensed into a quick and predictable montage. Even the Eckerts are saddled with forced conflict as Matt is still resentful at his brother for leaving the family to join the military following the death of their mother. He compares Jed’s actions to his own decision to abandon his post to save his prisoner-girlfriend, which leads to the death of a Wolverine … and probably of all the prisoners on the transport.
While poor characters who make stupid decisions could (and should) be passable in a film like this, Red Dawn 2012 doesn’t offer anything to balance it out. Action sequences lack creativity. We barely get a sense of what’s going on with the townspeople except that some support the Wolverines and still eat at Subway (yes, seriously). There’s no culture shock on the part of the North Koreans. The issue of today’s kids being less outdoorsy and not physically fit doesn’t come into play. In a nice touch, their gun handling skills are weak and uncertain, but for the most part, they’re handling military weapons, not the typical hunting rifle. The true brutality of the conflict, which is mentioned by Jed before the war begins, is absent in this bloodless, PG-13 exercise in rebellion. How modern technology would alter a conflict such as this is eliminated fairly early on as the North Koreans cause a temporary blackout that shuts down all communication systems permanently (except for ham radio…apparently), though they have a special device that lets them talk to their commanders, which unwisely gives the third act a definitive goal. Even the pontificating about “This is our home!” doesn’t reignite a discussion about patriotism or the death of cynicism; it’s just something that sounds good for a movie speech. Also, Jed served in the War on Terror, though I guess making even heavy-handed parallels would be a bit of a stretch for the subject at hand.
The most surprising thing about Red Dawn 2012 is that it’s actually a much more simplistic movie than its 1980s counterpart. I’m not only talking about the absence of real world, international paranoia, but also in the way it presents the conflict. The original Red Dawn closed with a touch of depressing ambiguity. A sense of hopelessness and futility pervades the conclusion. The Wolverines find themselves making morally difficult and questionable choices. And even the villains, at least the Cuban colonel who lets the Eckerts pass at the end, are given some level of sympathy as they come to understand how big and beyond them the situation actually is. These elements are absent from Red Dawn 2012, and some are even turned on their head so that the audience leaves with a, if not ‘happy,’ then at least a rousing ending.