Red Dawn is a hard movie to grade, as on one hand it delivers almost exactly what you’d expect from the movie just by looking at the Blu-ray cover, yet on the other hand it feels like it does so in the most mundane way possible when it really had the potential to be something more. How much more? I’m not sure, but this remake of the 1984 film showcases paper-thin characters, a lack of suspense and tension, and an almost non-existent threat – which is a pretty big misfire considering the plot.
The story is fairly simple: North Korea (with the “hinted at” help of the Russians) invades the United States and begins to take over. The movie focuses on the events happening in the town of Spokane, Washington; however, we’re lead to believe that these same events are happening in a good chunk of the United States at the same time. Considering North Korea’s population is less than the population of Texas alone, the notion of this happening is a bit hard to believe; however, the line, “They had to have had help,” and the appearance of a Russian operative halfway through the movie indicates that it’s not just the North Koreans invading – even though they’re the only ones you ever see.
So we’re introduced to the main characters over the course of roughly 10 minutes, where we see Matt Eckert (Josh Peck) trying to lead his high school football team (The Wolverines) to victory. The problem is that Matt isn’t a big team player, and he believes he can do everything on his own, and that’s his character in a nutshell – oh, except for the fact that he comes off as someone that odds are you won’t like, which is never a good thing for one of the leading protagonists.
Now one of the characters you will like – in fact, the only character you’ll likely root for at all is Matt’s older brother Jed (Chris Hemsworth), who’s returning from a stint in Iraq just in time for all hell to break lose back home. Matt doesn’t like Jed, and while he has his own reasons, this just makes Matt even less likable. The other three or four supporting actors are quickly touched upon in scenes that are under 30 seconds long, which shows just how much they matter overall.
That night after the football game, the power goes out and everybody goes home and goes to sleep. The next morning they’re awoken to explosions and heavy rumblings like an earthquake, and Jed and Matt look up to the sky and see paratroopers leaping from airplanes ready to attack. Jed and Matt quickly escape in Jed’s truck, and the same handful of secondary characters we briefly met before jump into the back as they drive by and they quickly head to a cabin out of the way.
So there’s this group of rogue high school kids, and a Marine who are now alone in a battle against these invaders. The problem is, it never feels like there’s any threat, or like the North Koreans have any plan whatsoever. They land, and within minutes this group gets away and quickly becomes the most wanted group of people in the area because Jed looked at the “evil” North Korean leader of that section of the invasion, Captain Cho (Will Yun Lee), the wrong way. I mean, sure, a few of his soldiers were killed, but making these guys your number one priority is really taking it personal for someone who likely has better things to do. Then again, there doesn’t seem to be a plan in place, so maybe he doesn’t.
Yes, the North Koreans quickly set up roadblocks, and checkpoints and that’s about it. There are soldiers and tanks patrolling the streets, and concentration camps set up on the football field; however, there’s no sense of fear or panic. The people put in camps are put there because they “may have information.” What information is that? Who knows, but it sounds legitimate, so let’s go with it.
The rogue group of high school kids who got away (they call themselves the Wolverines, so I’ll refer to them as that from this point on) constantly come back into town to get supplies and weapons because as Jed puts it, “there are so many people down there it’s impossible for them to keep track of who’s who.” That’s paraphrased a little bit, but you get the idea. So the Wolverines keep going into town, and after a montage where Jed teachers them all how to be soldiers and use guns, they start picking off North Korean soldiers by tricking them into leaving their posts.
It’s just really poorly done, as there are five or six Wolverines just hiding and then opening fire on a handful of soldiers after they run around the corner, and yet no other soldiers hear this or come to their aid? I get the city is a decent size, but it just shows how poorly conceived this entire invasion was. If this small group can take out an entire outpost with ease, you’d think the rest of the city would just say, “Hey, maybe we should do something about this too.” I know there’s a bit of understanding in terms of realizing not everyone would be willing to put their life on the line, especially since the North Koreans seem to just want to build checkpoints and pat people down every day. I mean, as far as invasions go, it could be a lot worse than that I suppose.
So without a real threat or understanding as to why the North Koreans are even there, it’s hard to really feel like they won’t be inevitably defeated. There are so many better ways that this story could’ve gone so that it actually had some impact on the viewer. Characters die, and characters get revenge; however, there’s no real reason to care when either happens, and that just shouldn’t be the case in a story like this.
This is a big problem, as we as an audience should care when one of the handful of Wolverines fighting the invaders dies, but we don’t because it all seems so silly. Captain Cho seems like a formidable opponent at first, and you inevitably think, “Man, I’d like to see Jed take him out!” but Cho quickly becomes just another invader albeit with a higher rank. The key here would have been to tell a more human story with characters we’re introduced to and care about on even a minute level, but that’s just not how it plays out.
The film runs at just over 90 minutes in length, though heading into the third act it begins to feel a bit tedious. The Wolverines have attacked the North Koreans time and time again, sometimes coming out on top, sometimes not, but it’s basically the same thing repeatedly and it gets boring – especially when so much is just brushed over.
Nearing the end of the second act the Wolverines are made aware that the North Koreans were able to gain a tactical advantage by using some sort of EMP bomb that wiped out every electrical device in the United States (for the most part). Even with this advantage, they couldn’t invade all of the US at once, and Arizona and handful of other states are safe zones where people are regrouping and fighting back. It’s just bizarre to think of how outnumbered the North Koreans are compared to the states that are still free. Maybe if the Russians were ever seen as an actual presence outside of one guy then it’d be a tad more believable that they could have some sort of stronghold over the States, but that’s not the case, so it comes off sloppy all around.
Red Dawn will be enjoyed by those who are looking for a movie where some high school kids learn to become soldiers within minutes, and then repeatedly shoot at North Koreans standing guard at checkpoints for an hour and a half. That’s pretty much the gist of the entire flick, even though deep down there are likely some parallels or attempted higher meanings in comparison with what the United States does overseas, but I’d rather not open that barrel of monkeys, as even if that is the case, it’s done poorly nonetheless.
The audio and video transfer of the film are well done for the most part, with only one scene really having a bad cut that looks like it never went through the post-production fix-up stage.
There are no special features to be found on the disc, which isn’t overly surprising considering the material.
Red Dawn is a mediocre film with a great concept. There’s lots that could’ve been done with what was presented here, and a deeper, stronger film could’ve easily been made with just as much action, but instead they went with weak characters and a mundane, by-the-numbers plot and overstays its welcome even with its brief 90 minute runtime. If you’re not swayed by anything you’ve read here, add another .5 to the score, as even then the film is nothing more than average.
FilmDistrict Presents Red Dawn. Directed by: Dan Bradley. Written by: Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore. Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson, Adrianne Palicki, Isabel Lucas, Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Running time: 94 minutes. Rating: 14A. Released: March 5, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.