Red Dawn (2012)

If you’re going to do preposterous as a movie director, you may as well go all out. And therein lies the only real positive of Dan Bradley’s 2012 version of Red Dawn, a reboot of the 1984 commie-scare flick, now aimed at a new generation that cares as much about communism as Kim Jong-un cares for a trip to a qualified hair stylist.

Red Dawn (2012)

The original was directed by John Milius, an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and the creative force behind memorable lines in everything from the Dirty Harry movies to Apocalypse Now. This update is the debut directorial effort from Bradley, whose previous experience lies purely in setting up stunts for Hollywood blockbusters. And boy, does it show.

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The new Red Dawn opens with a barrage of contemporary news channel headlines about economic and political upheaval, presumably intended to bridge the gap back to the Cold War and convince us that little has changed. Unfortunately for the newbie director, communism collapsed more than twenty years ago and hasn’t amounted to much of a military threat against American soil since.

Red Dawn (2012)

Even China, for all its size and military personnel, has remained a relatively quiet global rival, though out of all the countries that could serve as an updated “Evil Empire”, China makes the most sense. All of which makes it somewhat surprising to see North Korean paratroopers dropping into Spokane, Washington as the movie sets off on its descent into farce.

Red Dawn (2012)

Setting aside the insanity of the plot just for a minute—which is easier said than done (or watched)—it’s important to point out that these particular paratroopers are targeting suburbanites, chief among them being brothers Jed (Chris Hemsworth) and Matt Eckert (Josh Peck). Jed has, luckily, just returned home from military service in Iraq, and sets about ordering Matt around in the condescending way that only a big brother can. This sibling rivalry is perhaps the only effort towards character development in the entire film, so hold onto it for grim life.

Red Dawn (2012)

The brothers hop into a pickup truck and go barreling around town looking for an escape route, dodging North Korea’s finest (which seems to be that country’s entire population, judging by the sheer bizarre scale of the invasion). Along the way, they pick up some of Matt’s high school buddies, including Robert (Josh Hutcherson), Daryl (Connor Cruise), and Toni (Adrianne Palicki). After the brothers check in with their dad, who also happens to be a Spokane police sergeant who has to remain in town to do his duty, the teens head to the hills for cover. Because, as we all know, North Korean military aircraft lack the ability to fly above a height of 5,000 feet.

Red Dawn (2012)

Up in the hills, several of the group begin to get cold feet and float the idea of going home. A kid named Pete (Steve Lenz) is particularly vocal about it, but is quickly shouted down by the increasingly domineering Jed. Unsurprisingly, it isn’t long before the military might of the world’s newest superpower locates the teen renegades, aided and abetted by the easily swayed Pete, who’s become an overnight turncoat. Hiding out in the surrounding forest, the remaining runaways are faced with Sergeant Eckert being held at gunpoint by the enemy’s leader Captain Cho (Will Yun Lee). Making a heroic last stand, the father tells his boys, “Go to war! Stop this piece of shit or die trying!” Less catchy than the iconic “Avenge me!” line of the original, but a turning point in the movie all the same.

Red Dawn (2012)

Suitably motivated to take the fight to their newfound nemesis Cho, the brothers Eckert and what’s left of their crew form the Wolverines (named after their high school football team), a militia outfit that quickly gets to grips with the finer points of guerilla warfare. And if that sounds crazy, remember that they’re fighting an army from more than 6,000 miles away that just waltzed presumably millions of troops past the world’s most advanced military.

Red Dawn (2012)

After various skirmishes, including an ill-judged sortie to rescue Matt’s girlfriend Erica, which brings another brotherly smack-down from Jed, the Wolverines connect with three U.S. Marines led by Tanner (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Former Marines, actually, as they now fight under the flag of the Free American Army, prompting the first explanation (nearly an hour into the movie) of just how the entire North Korean army came to get past American military defenses.

Red Dawn (2012)

Admittedly, Russian special forces have been name-checked before this point, but not in a capacity that explains a full-scale ground invasion. Finally addressing this substantial gorilla in the room, it turns out that the explanation we’ve all been waiting for is “a magic weapon.” An electromagnetic pulse, to be precise, which we’ve all seen used on a smaller scale in other movies, never realizing it could topple the U.S. military and homeland forces in one fell swoop. More fool us.

As the film builds to its climax, there’s an equally magical suitcase that the (now elite) Wolverines unit must obtain, which is EMP-proof and will allow communication with outside forces to coordinate a counterattack. In the ensuing caper, Jed predictably encounters and kills Captain Cho (avenged indeed, Papa Eckert), only to eventually be dispatched himself by the enemy, though not before reconciling with his brother Matt and passing the torch. The remaining Marines escape and the Wolverines stay behind to continue fighting the good fight. Though I would think heading to North Korea, which is presumably completely empty at this point, would have been a smarter move.

Red Dawn (2012)

If it seems like I’ve offered no description of the characters’ depth and desires up to this point, it’s simply because they have none. Chris Hemsworth succeeds only in bringing even more of a wooden “quality” to the role of Jed than he managed in the Thor movies, which, come to think of it, is actually quite a feat. Former Nickelodeon star Josh Peck has some emotional moments as his brother, but nothing that elevates his role above the trite. In many senses, it’s Eckert Senior who delivers the most compelling performance, achieved by dying dramatically before things get utterly ridiculous.

Red Dawn (2012)

While the original Red Dawn was based on an equally questionable premise, it at least occurred at the right time and featured the appropriate antagonists as invaders. In 1984, the Soviet Union was a genuine threat to the U.S. and had been for decades, whereas modern-day North Korea is a rogue state which still struggles to launch missiles past its own borders.

It seems when the film was originally shot (way back in 2009), the enemy was China, a far more suitable choice. But in an amusing turn of events, the film’s backers got worried about offending Chinese moviegoers and made the switch to North Korea, which involved overdubbing dialogue and using CGI to replace all the Chinese flags with North Korean flags. Which just goes to show where American movies make most of their money these days.

Red Dawn (2012)

But that’s just the beginning of where this remake pales in comparison to its predecessor, which itself had plenty of flaws. John Milius’s original take seemed to be aiming for an all-around examination of how and why nations wage war. Baked into the overblown premise were leaders on both sides who frequently questioned their roles in the horrific events. Set against the backdrop of the post-Vietnam era and the reality-distorting propaganda of the Cold War, that film starts to make some sense. Even though a similar war fatigue could have been translated to this update, Bradley is either unwilling or unable to make the connection.

Red Dawn (2012) lurches from one reasonable action scene to another, desperately clinging to the sibling rivalry (and tragedy) for some kind of humanizing element. It fails spectacularly, leaving us with only the utterly preposterous military scenario to ponder as the film stumbles to its heroically clichéd climax.

As a route to appreciate its predecessor, this movie is a success. By all other measures, it fails more than a heavily armed North Korean platoon leader at U.S. passport control, claiming that he’s just here on vacation.

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  • Immortan Scott

    Why do movies think that North Korea is a serous threat? This, Olympus Has Fallen, Die Another Day, etc.

    Also, what the Hell was up with the scene at the Subway?

    • $36060516

      North Korea is one of the few nations in the world where Hollywood can’t sell its movies, so it’s one of the safest places to portray as evil villains without jeopardizing any potential profit.

      • Muthsarah

        Hollywood still villainizes the French and British all the time (British less explicitly, moreso just by casting Brits as “general fer’ners”). Russians are still common baddies, especially in the cheesier action movies, but the Russian moviegoers still line up to see these very same movies nonetheless. It’s not just about the size of markets, but about how thin the skin of the population and, more importantly, their governments. French and British, and apparently Russians, clearly don’t really care if they’re villainized so much in the movies they watch; France and the UK wouldn’t ban these movies, and while I could easily see Russia doing so (as in, Putin has the means), they apparently don’t care so much either.

        The Chinese, however, REALLY care. As in, the Communist Party of China has set rules that NO Chinese (there’s some flexibility regarding other East Asians, example being White House Down) can be the villains in a film with a Western (/white) hero, if that film is even to be allowed to play in their country, and the studios all know this. And even though the Chinese government takes an extra-large percentage of the movie’s profits (almost like a value-added-tax, or an old-fashioned tariff), and bootlegging is still incredibly huge, the studios are thinking long-term; they don’t want to lose access to these markets in the future, and they especially don’t want to be the one major studio shut out. Hence, they placate the CPC, and give us one more ludicrous “North Korea (almost) conquers the world!” scenario after another…when we all know it’s really about China. At least I hope the audience can figure that out.

        • $36060516

          When was the last movie about France invading America? Hollywood has a history of showing individual British and French characters as evil, but their entire nations not so much (outside of historical colonial epics). That’s what I was referring to.

          • Muthsarah

            France is one of the few “major” countries in the world that the US has never (technically) been at war with, despite having had regular dealings for over two centuries. A movie about France invading the US is more than ridiculous, it’s just downright ahistorical.

            But, yeah, you see French “boo, hiss!” villains all over the place, usually for no goddamn reason other than that entertainers still get a lot of mileage out of portraying the French as both arrogant and effete, decadent snobs who are as likely to steal the hero’s girlfriend as blow up a major American landmark. These films play off the idea that many Americans regard the French nation as entirely populated by the poshest of English stereotypes, only sporting jaunty berets. It still seems to go over reasonably well, and the French don’t seem to be that sensitive to these things, so….why should they change what’s worked well enough for so long? Same reason Russians are still the go-tos (though recent events…) for the more thuggish baddies – the legend of the angry Russian Bear lives on. They are the most obviously condescending villains – as in, when the bad guy in a Hollywood movie is French when he could have easily been from anywhere else, it reeks of studio pandering to red meat America – in Hollywood’s archetype rolodex.

          • $36060516

            I guess I still see a distinction between how Hollywood has portrayed:

            * Russia during the cold war / Iran / Libya / North Korea

            and

            * France / England / etc.

            There are plenty of examples of positive portrayals of British people (Mary Poppins, Harry Potter, etc., etc., etc.) and French people (most of the roles that have been played by Julie Delpy, Juliette Binoche, and Jean Reno in American films have not been villains, Les Miserables, Moulin Rouge, etc. etc., etc.), but I really do not think the same can be said the first group above.

          • Muthsarah

            I think we’re arguing at cross purposes. I’m not saying that Hollywood treats people from other countries with equally sympathy, just that they use stereotypes for all of them (even for Americans, if they’re supposed to be an “other” kinda American). The less familiar the (not always just American) audience is expected to be with a culture, the more likely they’re gonna be depicted as if they’re all interchangeable cookie-cutter caricatures. Nuance is saved for the more-familiar cultures, or for stories where the audience surrogates are themselves from another country. Most of the cast and characters from Harry Potter* are English, so English is portrayed as “normal”, not an “other”. But if there’s a Hollywood movie where most of the cast is American, and there’s exactly one English person….there’s probably a very specific plot-or-comedy-related reason (based a stereotype) for why that character is English.

            * – Was Harry Potter even made in Hollywood?

          • $36060516

            I don’t know the exact details of the production, but the first two were directed by the American Spielberg cohort who wrote The Goonies and Gremlins.

  • Thomas Stockel

    Thanks for the review. I was wondering about this film and just how bad it was, but didn’t want to devote the time or money to satisfy my curiosity.

    I would say you’re being pretty cruel to Chris, though; I don’t think he’s all that bad in the Thor movies and Avengers. And he was outstanding as James Hunt in Rush.

    • maarvarq

      I’d call Chris Hemsworth charismatic rather than wooden. I thought he was great in The Cabin in the Woods, too.

      • Chris Palmer

        Rule of thumb: If you’re in Home and Away or Neighbours, chances are you don’t suck. Hell, a few actors have even gotten their start on one of Channel Ten’s kids’ shows…

  • Gallen Dugall

    It should be pointed out that in the original version China was the big bad and a lot of what became goofiness is a result of changing that in post production. Why? Because China complained <> FREEDOM OF SPEECH!

    • $36060516

      “the IRS began auditing everyone involved – even the fricking caterers, then there was a full FBI investigation into everyone involved in funding this film”

      Are you joking around?

      • Gallen Dugall

        ask anyone involved in the film production

        • $36060516

          I don’t have access to them. Has there been any stories about this on the internet? A quick Google didn’t turn any up though I didn’t research it very hard. “Red Dawn” “FBI investigation” did turn up this amusing yet frightening racist paranoid rant though: http://fbicorrupt.blogspot.com/2013/03/fbi-thug-operations-harkins-theater.html

          • Gallen Dugall

            Hey, I’m just repeating what was being said at the time when the film was announced to be reshot, who really knows what the government does or doesn’t do, but if you think you’re going to find information about any secret police investigation on the internet or in the press then you’re just being silly.

          • $36060516

            If literally everyone on the crew down to the caterer was being investigated and were telling people who weren’t actually involved such as yourself about it, why exactly would those accounts not be found on the internet given how many people would have been talking about it and telling it to other people like you who would have likewise told other people such as you are doing now? Eventually one or more journalists would get a hold of the story and start looking into it and writing stories about it, even if the names of their sources were kept anonymous.

            I’m not saying it didn’t happen (though I am skeptical), just saying with all of those people involved and telling other people, it doesn’t seem “silly” to think the story would reach the internet. Especially given that the story would have hadthe potential to create a political scandal, with the president looking bad for pressuring a movie studio to alter an uber-patriotic film to please Communists. That would have created a huge incentive for people who don’t like Obama to spread the story to talk radio and conservative news outlets in order to attack him politically. People freaked out about the possibility of a rancher in Nevada having his illegally grazing cows taken by the government and turned it into a huge protest to score points against the president. The scenario you describe would have been a much bigger opportunity for such anti-Obama publicity, given the fame of the original movie and its political message.

            Silencing people with IRS investigations is the sort of stuff that got Nixon forced out of office. Not sure it would be worth playing with that kind of fire in order to please a nation with which we don’t have the best relations.

          • Gallen Dugall

            gosh I sure am glad the bad old days of government abuse of power to achieve political ends is over thank you for opening my eyes to the rainbows and sunshine world we truly live in where government is always right and those who say otherwise are evil people who should be rounded up and processed in deathcamps.

          • $36060516

            Glad we’re on the same page. Can I get an address to send over the Deathcampmobile?

  • Toby Clark

    If you want to see this premise done right, watch (or better yet, read) Tomorrow When the War Began.

  • MichaelANovelli

    I think the part about this remake that bugged me the most was that they gave the town an ineffectual black mayor who rolled over at the first sign of a foreign threat, like they were aiming at fans of the original and shouting, “Hey, we can be right-wing spank material, too!”

  • conservative man

    I just watched the original RED DAWN yesterday and I realized that even though in the movie you didn’t see a big city under attack, or a lot of special effects, less was better. The Highschool kids in the original had no idea what was going on outside of their isolated camp for most of the movie, and so you feel as though you are on a journey with them trying to figure out what is happening and how best to respond to a unexpected invasion. I knew I would not like this new remake and so I never saw it, North Korea as a major invading force…I just don’t buy into that premise. There is only so much you can get away with in fiction. The Original will always be the best despite the fact that in that movie you have to take a leap of faith and believe that somehow Russia and cuba could launch a WW 2 style invasion without everyone involved using their nukes ! Also this film is a must have for those like me who are anti communist, most Hollywood films back then sympathized with the soviets and would never make anything that portrayed the Soviet Union negatively. It was a rare movie in it’s own time just as it is now. With that being said all I can say is ” WOLVERINES !

    • conservative man

      Well I guess Rambo I and 2 could be considered anti communist, so I should put them on the list too to be fair.

      • Thomas Stockel

        I don’t think the theme of the Rambo movies is anti-communist, but about the perceived indifference to the plight of Viet Nam vets, both those who came home and those many felt were still left behind in POW camps. Listen to Rambo’s emotional speech at the end of the first film when he falls apart (People who say Stallone can’t act are full of it, by the way.) and there isn’t anything there about Communism. He just wants to be able to get a bite to eat without harassment, to be treated with some dignity.

        • conservative man

          I agree stallone can act, and I love his speech at the end of Rambo 2 about Vietnam vets and for “their country to love them as much as they love it “. But I still say you can see at least some anti communist themes in Rambo 2 and 3.

    • $36060516

      “most Hollywood films back then sympathized with the soviets and would never make anything that portrayed the Soviet Union negatively”

      First it’s the homosexual conspirators in Hollywood indoctrinating the entire country, now it’s the pro-Soviet Communist traitors. Alternately amusing and depressing to hear from your sad little paranoid world where evidence for absurd and baseless claims about one of America’s most successful industries is completely unnecessary.

      • conservative man

        Man calm down and relax will you, you and Muthsarah have been stalking me since I got here on this forum. I don’t know why you find one man with a opinion so threatening to you but you need to chill.

        • $36060516

          Maybe I need to chill and maybe you need to stop unleashing your series of hateful slanders on the very industry this site was made to discuss. The idea that Hollywood in the ’80s was overwhelmingly pro-Soviet and avoided negative portrayals of that country is ahistorical and absurd. When placed in context with your claims that Hollywood is anti-Christian and full of gays trying to convert our youth to homosexuality, I don’t think the one who needs to “chill” is necessarily me.

          • conservative man

            I’m not going to start trouble, if you want to then be my guest, but I will not be participating in a internet flame war with you or anyone else here. Good day to you.

        • Muthsarah

          You are exaggerating our dealings considerably. First time I even noticed you, it was in a debate over Bond films and why they are as they are today. And I wasn’t even disagreeing with your opinion then, but just had a brain-storming session with myself over an issue you raised. You then immediately got upset and accused me of trying to beat you down with words. I suggested that you were acting paranoid, but actually defended you against others who were calling you worse things.

          Cut to…three or four months later. I advised someone else in the thread (probably overstepping my bounds, in retrospect, especially as I was butting into someone else’s debate) that there was little purpose in getting into a shouting match with someone who wears their ideology on their sleeves. You then compared me to Hitler. Immediately after that, you go on a rant about a vast homosexual conspiracy having taken over Hollywood, and how they’re trying to twist American values to serve their narrow, money-grubbing aims. I then asked you, very briefly, if you were aware, prior to your comment, how much your words resembled decades-old conspiracy theories about Jews in Hollywood. You then called Obama a Nazi and, immediately after that, accused me of pulling the Nazi card first.

          This is how I “stalk”, apparently. You needn’t worry so much about me in the future. You do what you’re gonna do, and I’ll just let you do it without issue, and we’ll both be the happier for it, yes?

          • conservative man

            Well you did pull the nazi card first, but that is in the past and I won’t go back into that again. And your once again putting words into my mouth about certain subjects but I’m not going to bother going there either, think ill of me if you wish, it doesn’t bother me. I’m not going to start trouble, if you want to then be my guest, but I will not be participating in a internet flame war with you or anyone else here. Have a great day.

    • “Most Hollywood films back then sympathized with the soviets and would never make anything that portrayed the Soviet Union negatively.”

      Hence Rocky IV, Rambo III, Top Gun, Firefox, Red Scorpion et al. At that point Soviet movies were far more pro-America than American ones were pro-communist (not a joke, check out TASS Is Authorized to Declare sometime). In fact Soviet films portrayed most Americans as fundamentally decent people who were merely mislead by their bosses and the state, rather than the monolithic evil force the US movies portrayed the commies as.

      • conservative man

        I will have to check that out.

  • Cristiona

    Yeah… The remake was almost entirely soulless. While the original was goofy as fuck, there was effort to make a good movie, and to portray the isolation and the seemingly futile nature of partisan guerrilla warfare against an organized and trained military: early wins from surprise attacks before ever-growing casualties sap morale.

    Also, the scene of the opening invasion in the original is better in every way to the remake.