Unlike the groundbreaking original, the remake of Red Dawn is more of a dull maroon. Though the film offers a decent dose of action, the sequences are mostly run-of-the-mill and not enough to offset the film’s lackluster story and seemingly etch-a-sketched characters. The final result – 95 minutes of PG-13 mini-mayhem – doesn’t make the grade. Viewers over 18 may want to skip.
Set in Spokane, Washington, 2012’s Red Dawn pits a group of high school students against North Korean invaders who establish martial law after a lethal surprise attack. Having escaped the initial bloodshed, the students call themselves the Wolverines after their high school mascot and become a symbol of hope and freedom in the occupied territory by organizing counter assaults on the North Korean regime. Led by Jed Eckert (Chris Hemsworth), a marine who happens to be home on leave, these G.I.-Jocks and Janes inflict heavy damage on the North Koreans while suffering casualties of their own. Jed’s younger brother Matt (Josh Peck) is second in command as star QB, while Robert (Josh Hutcherson) is tech guru for the group. A handful of other up-and-comers round out the squad.
The film opens strongly enough. Viewers will likely feel they’re getting their money’s worth from the invasion sequence, which is pandemonium. A normal day in Spokane is upended when North Korean war planes fly overhead and paratroopers start dropping from the sky. A high speed chase and an ample body count draw viewers in. Unfortunately, the sequence does not prove to be a sign of things to come as subsequent action in the film consists mostly of standard firefights punctuated by obligatory explosions.
The film’s biggest flaws, however, are its lack of drama and characterization, and a pseudo love story that seems like a marketing attempt at Twilight fans. For starters, Jed and Matt have a superficial beef about Jed having left for the marines after their mom died, leaving Matt to cope on his own. This lends itself to displays of defiance and machismo on Matt’s part that undermine the credibility of the war-time circumstances. One would think that if Matt was really in a fight to survive, he would willingly listen to his brother who’s already been to war.
The pseudo love story centers around Matt and his girlfriend Erica (Isabel Lucas), who share a depth of commitment that seems implausible and disproportionate for high school. The most heinous example of this is when, during one of the Wolverines’ major counter operations, Matt notices Erica on a school bus turned prisoner transport and botches the entire operation in order to save her, getting one of his comrades killed in the process. When he returns to base camp with Erica in tow, all but Jed let it pass, including the fallen comrade’s sister Julie. Viewers seeking realism will find the whole affair a bitter pill.
Performance-wise, Chris Hemsworth delivers as the group’s war-hardened leader, but ends up making some of his younger counterparts’ performances look amateur. Of the younger group, Alyssa Diaz who plays Julie, Julian Alcaraz who plays her prematurely dispatched brother Greg, and Josh Hutcherson are at the top of the class. Ultimately, it’s the one dimensionality of the other characters, more than the actors that play them, that lets the picture down.
Audiences familiar with the film’s epic predecessor will be the most disappointed by Red Dawn. While they will recognize certain iconic visual references, the heart of the first film is nowhere present. The overwhelming uncertainty of war, the tragedy of lost innocence, and the palpable fear that characterized the first generation of Wolverines seems to have skipped the second, which is decidedly less hawkish and more fashion-conscious. Perhaps with the pluralistic threats that exist in the world today, there is no enemy equivalent to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The result is that the new Red Dawn lacks the depth and resonance of version 1.0.