“For them, this is just a place. For us, it’s home!”
Swift shot: This is not your father’s Red Dawn, this new Red Dawn is a homogenized, watered-down version with a lot less story and a lot less relevance. I started a rule about comparing remakes with the original when more than 20 years has passed, so I won’t draw many more comparisons with the original. But, it should be noted, Red Dawn (the original) is one of my favorite movies, probably of all time. Let that say about me whatever you want it to, but when I saw that film as a kid, the Soviets were still a very real threat, as was the worry about a nuclear Holocaust. So, a film about normal Americans standing up, as partisans, and keeping their streets free . . . inspired me but the characters were compelling and interesting. I can’t really say the same about this new Red Dawn; it feels so mushed up and edited together after the fact. There is something to be said about a film that pusses out and changes the enemy to the North Koreans, because a more realistic scenario involving the Sino-Russian Axis (SCO) drew too much negative press. So already, strike one, right there, for not having the testicular fortitude to be honest with your audience. I hate that! To be clear, I didn’t hate this new version, as a stand alone action flick, it’s fine, but I doubt it will inspire much real national pride. It will just be one of another countless, pointless action films that should only be judged by how many explosions or kills can be tallied. In short, Red Dawn 2012 is fodder for critics that will lament . . . “who cares?”
It’s football night in America, high school football to be exact, and the home team Wolverines are playing in a title game with their cross-town rivals. The Wolverines are helmed by QB Matt Eckert (Josh Peck) who has a lot of passion but falls short when the game is on the line. Still, he manages to get the girl, Erica (Isabel Lucas) . . . for the time being anyway. His brother, Jed (Chris ‘Thor’ Hemsworth), is a United States Marine, on R&R from his last op overseas. He has two weeks to relax at home before being sent off God knows where. See, the globe is in a state of utter free-fall (not too far-fetched), and the global experiment seems to have been a failure, as Europe falls, NATO disbands, Asia rises up etc etc. The first salvo of the film develops the “how we got here” scenario, so I won’t bore you with it here.
Into the early hours, the townsfolk are doing what small town America does during the witching hour, drinking, shooting pool, hanging out in general, and when dawn hits, the invasion is upon them. Paratroopers, troop transport aircraft, helos, assault vehicles, HUMVEEs, everything short of tanks at this point, descend upon Spokane and Matt and Jed’s father, Tom (Brett Cullen) is the Sheriff of a town, now in name only. Being in a position of authority during an invasion affords one only two clear choices . . . cooperate or be killed. See if you can guess which one the Sheriff chooses.
A small group of teenagers escape the civilian round-up, loosely gathered by Jed, they hole-up in a nearby cabin and begin to face reality and plan a survival strategy. One of the kids decides to challenge Jed’s authority, and it doesn’t work out too well for him. Seems Erica didn’t make it out though, and she was captured by the provisional North Korean government. Matt is beyond devastated, as he is trying desperately to hold onto any semblance of family, love, normalcy he can embrace. He feels like he has abandoned Erica throughout the entire film and it clearly drives his actions. Don’t ask me about several of the other Wolverine’s motives though, because I challenge you to pinpoint their personalities after seeing this film.
Adrianne Palicki, who I really wanted to see more from in the film, could have basically not existed at all, she was Toni and apparently some psuedo-love interest to Jed and not much else really. The peripheral characters in Red Dawn were so uninteresting they felt like they were written to be written-off ala the cornucopia scene in The Hunger Games. Tom Cruise’s kid Connor Cruise played Daryl, whose father has turned Quisling (ptooey) as the Mayor who cooperates with the invaders to save his skin. Daryl struggles with his father’s weakness throughout the film, and in one pretty powerful scene he must choose between his family and his friends. One aspect I rather liked in this new version was the obvious entrance of collaborators, “it had to happen,” Jed frankly explains. But, it’s interesting that in the Milius version they were only alluded to and not shown on screen. Could this be a political climate change and sign of the times that America’s fiber has become weaker and more accepting of such truths?
There was a scene where a Wolverine supporter is dealt with by the Chinese, errr, I mean North Korean contingent. But then there was also a gratuitous product placement of Subway (which I love by the way) that was so cheesy it came across as funny. I must admit it got a laugh out of me, and maybe that is the best way to go about product placement . . . make it so obvious that people can’t help but laugh. And, with a script devoid of much character development, I guess that counted as a bit. Anywhere I could get a glimpse of ‘character’ was a treat.
Red Dawn offers a grim reality to people who might otherwise glorify war, that it isn’t a video game, you don’t re-spawn, your father isn’t there anymore to tell you what is right, what is foolish and what is honor, those are decisions that become immediately thrust upon the Wolverines as they wreak havoc upon the enemy . . . to secure their liberty.
One saving grace to a film that almost becomes unwatchable as anything “serious” is the introduction of Tanner (Jeffrey Dean ‘The Comedian’ Morgan) as the film’s American military presence . . . assuring us in the audience that we won’t just let a town fall without a say-so. The operators bring some comedy relief to an otherwise flat team, with Smith (Kenneth Choi) and Hodges (Matt Gerald) who plays a tight, albeit stereotypical jarhead.
Something I really appreciated as a ‘clinger’ was the sense of pragmatic weapons knowledge that Jed brought to the team, remarking at one point that a weapons cache they find hidden in the woods is essentially useless unless you are about 10 yards away from your enemy. This is often over-looked in Hollyweird, that it is very difficult to accurately hit your target with a fully automatic weapon with a shortened barrel and almost no weight compensation . . . ala the Intertec-9. Sure, you might get lucky, but when your army is all kids, luck has to be removed from the equation as much as possible.
And, therein lies the rub, these kids go from zero to hero in NO TIME. They don’t start off awkwardly engaged in their first combat scenarios, they literally pop up as trained killers. I just didn’t buy that these punk kids’ first combat action wouldn’t come out with any Wolverine casualties. A lot of the film relies on that convenience factor, which probably only exists in movies. I suppose a Wolverine type squad could exist, for a short time, but I find it hard to believe they would be anywhere near as effective as portrayed in the film. Still, it’s nice to believe that Americans, deprived of freedom, would rise up against a threat to their liberties.
All in all, Red Dawn 2012 is a pretty solid action film, but it lacked something the original had . . . potency.