Red Dawn ReviewDecember 12, 2012
The Wolverines shouldn’t have returned.
Remakes are everywhere nowadays. Unfortunately, recently Hollywood has shown us that their hunger for money is paramount to quality, as these re-imaginings are decisively inferior to their predecessors. A newcomer in the recent roundup of remakes and reboots is Red Dawn (Editor’s note: alliteration level over 9000!) – an action film based on the “what if” concept of North Korea invading American soil, forcing citizens to rise up and initiate armed resistance. John Milius (renowned as the writer of Apocalypse Now) was the mastermind behind the original 1984 film, which granted wasn’t the greatest work of fiction ever conceived, but it was enjoyable ride and featured memorable characters portrayed by actors that would go on to big success, such as Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen. It’s also notable that Red Dawn was the first film in history to be released with a PG-13 rating, and is still controversial to this day for the level of violence it showed onscreen. (Side note: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom caused the creation of this rating with its infamous heart-tearing scene.) This remake was filmed back in 2009, but due to MGM’s subsequent financial troubles it remained on the shelf until finally being picked up by Filmdistrict. Now that this new take on Red Dawn had landed in theatres, the question can finally be asked: was it wise for the Wolverines to return?
After six years of service in Iraq, US Marine Jed Eckert (Chris Hemsworth) is discharged and returns home to Spokane,Washington, where he is greeted by his father, Spokane Police Sergeant Tom (Brett Cullen) and brother Matt (Josh Peck) – a football player for the local high school. After a rough night, the three awake to find that their world has suddenly changed. North Korea has invaded the West Coast of the United States, and many are either killed or captured as the Eckerts and others escape to the woods. When the two brothers and other teenagers arrive at the Eckert cabin, they all struggle to gather their senses as Jed assumes leadership, and they realize that they’re now fighting for their survival. After a tragic turn of events, the teenage refugees realize that America needs heroes in order to come out of this invasion as free people. Thus, the Eckert brothers and their friends form a resistance group known as the Wolverines – so named after Matt’s school’s mascot – fighting to inspire patriotism and courage in the American people as they attempt to liberate many souls from North Korean occupation.
In the opening sequence, we see a heavily-edited montage of footage of both American and North Korean politicians, haunting newscasts and reports of economic disaster which give some decent insight as to why global events have escalated into what is shown in Red Dawn. Due to the intriguing premise and this set-up, it can be said that the filmmakers had a clear picture of what they were trying to accomplish… right? Unfortunately, this is entirely not the case; what we get here is a story that has a promising introduction, but then somewhere along the way the execution falters miserably. That’s not to say that Red Dawn isn’t entertaining, though. Much like Premium Rush – an action film which was released back in August – this film tries to be like old school action films that don’t require much brain power to enjoy, and to be completely honest there are some enjoyable aspects about Red Dawn.
The theme of patriotism isn’t exactly a bad one and I felt that the script presents it in a decent manner, for there are certainly parallels to how the colonists banded together to fight the Redcoats in the Revolutionary War. However, after the end credits started rolling I began to piece together plot points, scenes and characters, and I realized that the script is absurd and dreadfully messy. Any good story requires solid characterization, and unfortunately even the roles given to the three leads are forgettable. In fact, these Wolverines are so unmemorable that character deaths were recalled later in the film, and I had already forgotten who they were. It doesn’t help that the dialogue itself is just plain awkward; I recognize that not every single script needs to be as deep as Lincoln, but at least the dialogue should be interesting and enjoyable. Red Dawn, on the other hand, is simply absurd and is hardly even entertaining – the original had its implausible moments, but at least it was a ridiculously awesome ride and had some more realism to it. While the original kept the characters in a forest setting surviving off the land for what seemed to be months (understandable since the Wolverines utilized guerilla warfare), this film has our heroes shifting from their forest base to Spokane with seemingly no effort at all. I might be able to forgive this in other films, but here that small error in writing annoyed me on top of this film’s numerous issues.
My last major grievance with Red Dawn is perhaps one of the biggest flaws: the North Koreans. Yes, I’ll admit the efforts that North Korea have made to “attack” our nation in real life have proved to be a joke, but here even the treatment of the nation’s soldiers bothered me. The Wolverines’ foes are depicted as rather dim-witted in combat, and the script explains to us that North Korea invaded us – keep in mind I’m paraphrasing – simply because we need to be punished. That, my friends, is lazy screenwriting at its absolute worst. Quite frankly this take on Red Dawn did not get the writers it deserved.
Acting is not a real standpoint of Red Dawn either, although the main strength of this film is Chris Hemsworth’s performance. I won’t be disappointed if Hemsworth keeps getting typecast as the typical action hero that Harrison Ford was back in his day, because he is continually entertaining in these roles while also simply looking the part. His role here is similar to his character in Snow White and the Huntsman; both characters suffer from alcoholism and haunting events in their past. This is actually the second film Hemsworth has starred in this year that suffered from an abnormally-delayed release (the first being the cult horror hit The Cabin in the Woods), so his younger age comes forth in this film that was shot back in 2009. The same goes for the other members of the cast. I’ve always liked Josh Hutcherson since he usually lends a layer of maturity to his characters, but despite his decency in this role the absolutely abysmal script and direction make him rather useless in the story. Jeffrey Dean Morgan also shows up towards the end of the film, and for what it’s worth he has some nice lines, but I also felt that he was underused. Without a doubt, the worst offender in the cast of Red Dawn is Josh Peck, who unfortunately shows up on screen most frequently. Don’t get me wrong, I like Josh Peck- I watched Drake & Josh back in the day, and a key reason why that show worked so well is because of Josh’s eccentricity and goofiness – comedic sensibilities that fit his oddball character perfectly. Peck is a decent actor, but he’s a comedian, not an action star. He’s unconvincing in every way in Red Dawn, especially in scenes where he has to assume leadership where his brother (Hemsworth’s character) falters. Otherwise, the cast is completely forgettable, and it’s a shame that the grand majority of the Wolverines generally looked prettied up when they should battle-hardened and dirty from combat.
Whenever you have a stunt coordinator as prolific as Dan Bradley (his credits include Independence Day, two of the Bourne films, and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) making his debut as a director for an action film, it’s difficult to not get excited. However, his first directorial outing is a disappointing one indeed. Some of the action is fun, but I felt that the action scenes as a whole suffered from two key issues. One would have to be the visual direction, which is dominated by a style of shaky cam that results in disorienting, almost incomprehensible sequences of violence. Shaky cam is an art form when used in the proper way – filmmakers, please refer to Saving Private Ryan, United 93, the Bourne films, and Cloverfield – but unfortunately Dan Bradley has yet to master the technique. Secondly, the tone felt improper for this type of story. While better directors may look down on the violence portrayed on the screen, Bradley and his team went in the direction of Michael Bay, resulting in a film that is much like Pearl Harbor in how it glorifies the action and improperly demonizes the Wolverines’ enemies. Production design, sound, and the music are decent enough, but they fail to impress standing next to a poorly directed film.
Remaking Red Dawn wasn’t a smart move for the people involved with the project. It’s true, the original film wasn’t that great, but thirty years ago action movies were treated in a different light and were significantly more self aware of their nature as works of fiction. On top of that, this version of Red Dawn carries an offensive, racist tone. Red Dawn simply isn’t good; Dan Bradley’s first outing as a director is one marked by terrible writing, generally weak performances, and action that could have benefited from less twitchy camera operators. The Wolverines put up a good fight, but unfortunately they’re not the greatest pocket of resistance out there.