Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Action,Adventure,Thrillers Movie Review of ‘Red Dawn’ (2012)

Movie Review of ‘Red Dawn’ (2012)

Red Dawn was filmed and completed three years ago in 2009, but its studio, MGM, went bankrupt and lacked the money to grant the picture proper distribution. The same fate was shared by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods, which was at long last released earlier in 2012. The two films share a common star in Chris Hemsworth, but the comparisons end there. While Cabin in the Woods is an outstandingly original horror movie and one of the year’s notable highlights, Red Dawn is merely a middling actioner. The best remakes are those which produce an exciting new take on an old idea, or at least improve upon the execution of the original film. This Red Dawn does neither. It begins with promise, but soon collapses under the weight of its glaring idiocies, forgettable characters, and incomprehensible photography.

Jed Eckert (Hemsworth) is on leave from the Marines, living with father Tom (Cullen) and brother Matt (Peck) in their quiet Washington State hometown. Not long after a mysterious power outage sweeps the Pacific Northwest, Jed and Matt wake up to the sound of gunfire and a sky littered with armed paratroopers. With North Korean invaders hastily moving into the country, Jed and Matt skip town, forced to leave their beloved father as they flee to a forest in the local mountains with as many of their friends as possible in tow. Calling themselves the Wolverines after their high school football team, Jed begins presiding over a resistance unit, turning to terrorist tactics in the hope of defending their tattered country and thwarting the takeover effort run by Captain Cho (Lee).

As Red Dawn languished on a shelf awaiting release, the invading force was changed from China to North Korea, necessitating extensive dubbing, a new opening title sequence, and digitally altered flags, uniforms and insignias. The decision was purely motivated by money, as the distributors realised that China is a huge market for action blockbusters, and Chinese invaders would diminish foreign box office takings. North Korea was fair game, though; nobody cares what they think. To the credit of those involved, the change is seamless, but the notion of North Korea successfully invading America is risible. I mean, North Korea cannot even take over South Korea. Plus, the country’s population falls short of 25 million – even Texas alone has a higher population. Hell, the amount of armed citizens in the whole of America would outnumber the invading soldiers by a hilarious margin. It’s implied that the Russians are assisting the takeover, but the extent of their involvement remains a mystery. We only see one Russian in the entire film.

Screenwriters Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore not only neglected to fix the glaring idiocies of the original Red Dawn, but they introduce a new slate of stupidities as well. What is North Korea’s game plan? What do they aim to achieve? Plus, the Wolverines seem able to easily come to town and leave as they please. Are there no road blocks to prevent them from escaping into the forest? How is the forest not overrun by North Korean forces seeking to find the squad’s base camp? Cell phones are often used to take photos as well, despite the fact that the characters have nowhere to charge the things. And not to worry, although America has been taken over, Subway restaurants are still in operation. Moreover, all it takes is one training montage for Jed to single-handedly turn his inexperienced would-be soldiers into competent militias able to shoot and fight. Red Dawn is bloody cheesy, too. No matter which way you cut it, chanting “Wolverines!” and giving motivating speeches can never be taken seriously.

Director Dan Bradley’s years of experience as a stunt coordinator and second unit director serves him well here. This Red Dawn admittedly works in fits and starts, with bursts of stand-out action here and there. The initial takeover is chilling and nail-biting, a petrifying vision of what a modern military invasion might look like. Added to this, a few shoot-outs are fairly awesome. But here’s the thing: Bradley merely aspired to blow shit up and use the teen guerrillas as action figures with perfect marksmanship skills who can superhumanly jump from great heights without breaking any bones. (Are these Wolverines reinforced with adamantium?) In other words, while John Milius’ original Red Dawn explored the devastations of war, this reboot is all cheap thrills, but without any actual bloodshed since this is a PG-13 film. The 1984 film was one of the first pictures to receive a PG-13 rating, yet it’s far more violent and edgy than anything in this sanitised, bloodless remake.

Compounding its many flaws, the film’s attempts at character development oftentimes fall flat. The screenwriters even use the old “forcing a naïve newbie to consume something nasty under the guise of it being tradition,” even though the stale old joke hasn’t been funny for over a decade. The characters are much too indistinguishable beyond the three main characters. Whenever one of the characters died, I struggled to figure out who it was, and struggled even further to care. It doesn’t help that Bradley’s team heavily leaned on lazy shaky-cam techniques. Throughout the action set-pieces, the cameramen keep suffering epileptic seizures, so it’s hard to tell who dies and how they were even killed. Interestingly, the cast of the original Red Dawn (including Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen) went on to become big stars. Meanwhile, the stars of this update became big names between filming the movie and the film finally being released. Heh. In the lead role of Jed, Chris Hemsworth is suitably authoritative and strong, whilst Peck is merely okay as Jed’s younger brother. Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games) and Connor Cruise (Tom’s adopted son), meanwhile, play some of the most forgettable characters in the film, though it’s hardly their fault; blame Bradley and his writers. Honestly, if someone lined up all the Wolverines in the film, I would not be able to tell you whether or not they died, or, more pertinently, how or when some of them died.

1984’s Red Dawn was relevant at the time of its release. Created at the height of the never-ending Cold War, it was a response to the public’s heightened paranoia that the Soviets could be on their doorstep at any minute. Moreover, although the film is cheesy, it had a wonderful sense of political awareness and its portrayal of war was effective. 2012’s iteration, on the other hand, has no relevance or ambition; it’s a random stab against a country with no beef against the United States. To be fair, this Red Dawn may entertain you, and there are worse action movies out there, but overall it’s a wasted opportunity. Its initial sequence depicting the takeover is chilling, yet the film doesn’t follow through with its promise to be a complex, challenging war movie emphasising the terror of a foreign invasion.

5.1/10

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