That's my honest friggin' review of Red Dawn (2012).
I mean, yeah Hollywood has had a very serious epidemic of remaking 1980s era movies because it's so creatively bankrupt it has to reach back 30 years to find something to peddle to the public. And yeah, once in a while they make something watchable... but
COME +%# ()@% ON
Ok... deep breath. In through the nose... out through the mouth.... calm... cleansing....
If you haven't seen Red Dawn (1984) you might not fully appreciate some of my remarks here.
I can pound this movie one of two ways. I can treat it like it isn't a remake and criticize it entirely on its own merits, or I can compare it to the infinitely superior Red Dawn (1984).
Either way, this movie... this friggin' movie...
I begin with the former.
On its own merits, this movie sucked.
The characters were nothing but 2-dimensional caricatures of a handful of random teenagers that could have come from any Dawon's Creek style show. That wouldn't have been so bad, since essentially that's what the characters represent, if there had been some actual character development. The experience hardly changes any of them at all and the one showcased change we do see is in Matt, and by the end of the movie I disliked his character so much I wasn't pleased at his development, just annoyed that he survived the movie.
Now, there has been much criticism that the antagonists in this movie, the North Koreans, are not a credible enough threat to the United States to make the film believable. While I do agree with that, it isn't the thing that bugs me the most. The invasion of the U.S. is just a plot device. This movie had a real opportunity to tell a very relevant, very deep story and tossed it right out the window. A movie reflects the times in which it's made, and there are really big questions regarding war that are quite relevant and contemporary. The U.S. has been in a war with insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. This movie turns the tables where it's young Americans who are the insurgents. This is a goldmine of questions that can be explored, revolving around the moral ambiguity of insurgency. Is it justifiable to used IEDs? Is it justifiable to cost civilian lives fighting the invaders? When is an insurgency moral and when is it not? They could even have explored torture (yes, including water boarding) in a movie like this. Red Dawn is the perfect setting for reversing the roles we've become accustomed to and seeing them from the other point of view. If they had done that, this movie would have been 10 times more interesting.
But they didn't. They lampshaded it with some bland speech by Jed Eckert about how when he was fighting in Iraq he was with the good guys, fighting to keep order and the insurgents were the bad guys... and now, as insurgents, he and his team were the bad guys trying to spread chaos to fight the invaders. Had that question been raised again, had there been more exploration into the morality of it, that speech could have been the starting point for that intellectual exercise. Instead, it was a lampshade, and never mentioned again.
The plot had no real resolution. At some point a MacGuffin
is introduced in the form of some piece of technology the North Koreans had that allowed them to escape the effects of some EMP device they'd used to cripple the U.S. and now the Woverines (the band of insurgent kids) team up with some out-of-retirement U.S. Marines to steal it and get it into the unoccupied zone. Suddenly the movie became a video game. (Also lampshaded. "We're living Call of Duty and it sucks.") Break into the enemy base and steal the MacGuffin. Make it back into friendly territory and put it on a helicopter.
And when that was done, the kids go back to fighting, recruiting more insurgents aaaannnd... movie end.
I wanted to vomit.
It's not that I hate this movie for what it is. I hate it for what it could so easily have been and chose not to be.
The original movie wasn't perfect, but it was so much deeper than this. In that film, we even see some of the struggles of the villains in wartime. Colonel Ernesto Bella, a Cuban who is there allied with the Soviets, feels like he's morally in the wrong here. He had once been an insurgent himself, and his new role as invader does not sit well with him. He even writes home to his wife, telling her of his imminent plans to retire and leave this life.
Some comparisons of scenes that correlate to each other:
Red Dawn (1984) was made at a time when the Cold War was a real thing, and the Soviet Union was a credible and genuine threat. Fear of war was on everyone's mind, all the time. When they made Red Dawn it was relevant, contemporary, and had meaning. It was unsettling in its realism, and it reminded us that war is hard, very hard, on all sides. There were even a couple of sympathetic characters on the enemy side, which made the whole story feel more well rounded and engaging. It had so many moments that were so powerful, any one of which brought up more emotion and thought than the entire remake. A couple examples...
The initial invasion (1984):
The setting is a high school. Students start to notice parachutes falling from the sky. As the invading troops land, there's chaos, pandemonium. People start running in all directions, panic. The invaders' identity isn't known yet, only that they're firing on anyone who confronts them or tries to escape in a vehicle of any kind. Jed Eckert shows up in his truck and picks up his brother and a couple others (including Robert) and desperately flee for their lives. They have no idea what's happening, and they stop outside of town at Robert's father's gas station where he loads them up with supplies and things they'll need to survive in the mountains, away from the violence. As they get back on the road, they see a military roadblock and veer off the road to escape it. The enemy starts firing on them, and Jed's truck stalls out, lightly damaged by small arms fire. The boys look up, and see a U.S. Army chopper zoom in, firing on the roadblock.
"IT IS OURS?!?!?!"
"Yeah, it's ours."
Jed gets the truck restarted and off they go toward the mountains to hide.
This part of the movie feels like a desperate and fearful flight from the chaos, and we don't know what's going on but we want to get some distance and figure it out, just like the characters. The fear comes from the chaos, and knowing that to fail is to be rounded up, possibly killed. The arrival of the Army chopper feels like a relief, and reassurance that things aren't hopeless, just scary.
The initial invasion (2012)
Jed wakes up to hear the sound of explosions in the distance. He goes outside and sees a massive fleet of troop carrier planes dropping parachutes everywhere. Matt joins him and they get in the truck to go look for their father, who is a cop. Things are exploding all over the place, a CGI airplane wing takes out the house next door, and people are screaming all over. Nobody knows what's going on but Jed knows what to do, he's a U.S. Marine home on leave. Dad leads them around the city awhile before a paratrooper shoots up his squad car, causing it to crash. He gets out of the car and tells Jed and Matt to flee for the family cabin in the woods. As they go, they gather up a couple friends in the truck and a small convoy forms. For some unknown reason Jed chooses to let his truck be broadsided by a North Korean Captain riding in a Hummer(!) but no worries, the truck restarts fine and they drive away for the cabin. This sets up the personal animosity between the officer and Jed. Apparently, civilians causing auto accidents is a sever offense worthy of the personal attention and time of the new acting district Governor...
This part of the movie didn't make much sense to me. Jed comes across as a guy who knows what he's doing yet doesn't actually DO anything. Even when his truck is on a collision course with the enemy Hummer, and Matt warns him, he says "I know..." and gets plowed into anyway. I still don't understand why this high-ranking officer was chasing them anyway. They were just a couple of thousands of civilians fleeing the area. What was so special about Jed and friends at that point in the movie? I don't get it.
The first fight(1984)
A soviet vehicle is coming up to the mountains along the road. They stop at a scenic overlook, where the 3 occupants of the vehicle get out and enjoy the view. They start taking souvenir photos of each other and banter with each other. Suddenly, Toni, who was hiding from them, slips and starts to slide down the slope next to the road. One of the soviet troopers goes down after her and she begins to scream. Danny, who is nearby, fires an arrow at the soldier, hitting him.
Hearing the commotion, Jed, Matt and Robert come running from where they'd been hunting nearby. They use their rifles to fire on the enemy, rescuing their friends. A young Soviet officer, wounded, staggers back to the car and climbs in, trying to call for help on the CB radio. Jed comes to the driver's side window with his father's revolver, pointing it at the officer. Their eyes meet, and the officer resigns himself to what's about to happen. The camera shifts to Danny, who jumps, startled, when he hears the gun shot.
This scene is where the kids transition from being in hiding to becoming insurgents. They were not looking to engage the Soviets, but engaged after they were discovered and in self-defense. It was disorganized, chaotic and frightening. The Soviets were caught by surprise and were outnumbered, and still the scene was scary. Their innocence is now lost. They've killed 3 men. This is especially true of Jed, who executed a man. This is also the moment where Robert, who had already learned that his father had been killed by the Soviets for helping them, begins to realize he likes killing the enemy.
The first fight(2012)
After Jed decided to train the kids for war, and after a montage of them jumping around and learning to aim with a super soaker, they go on their first op.
Toni is downtown, walking toward a North Korean security checkpoint. She stops and walks away, attracting the attention of a North Korean officer. The soldiers give chase, and Toni runs into an empty lot filled with trash and refuse. 3 of her friends, who had been hidden in the junk, pop up and gun down the soldiers. They collect weapons, ammo and equipment form the fallen soldiers, and Robert throws up. No new enemy come running, even though they're nearby.
ActionheroActionheroActionheroActionhero. The kids were already operating like a co-ordinated military unit and did very well against trained professional soldiers. All of this right in the city which they can apparently infiltrate at will. Robert vomiting is the only emotional response we see from the kids. Everybody is apparently fine with all this.
The ending (1984)
In order to distract the Soviets to allow Toni and Danny to escape to the free zone, Jed and Matt stage an attack on the Soviet HQ. They sow confusion and disorientation using planted explosives until the new Soviet Colonel, recognizing these tactics for what they are, intercepts them. He fires at Matt, wounding him. Jed stalks him and surprises him from behind. "You lose." The colonel hears this and turns to fire, and the two men shoot each other, the Colonel hit fatally.
Jed finds Matt, unconscious and dying, and carries him away. They come across the path of Colonel Bella who at first threatens them with a machine gun, but then lets them go, feeling a kinship with them because in his own past he had been an insurgent himself. As Jed and Matt move away, Bella tosses whispers "Vaya con Dios" (Godspeed). He tosses away his weapon.
Stumbling in the snow, Jed manages to reach a park bench in a playground where the two boys had played as children. He sits on the bench, holding his dying brother. "Daddy's gonna come get us soon, Mattie. He'll be here soon." The brothers die there together in the playground.
Toni and Danny escape into free America, and the movie ends with an epilogue, telling us that the war eventually ended, "...In the early days of World War III, guerrillas – mostly children – placed the names of their lost upon this rock. They fought here alone and gave up their lives, so 'that this nation shall not perish from the earth.'"
This ending crushes me every time. The contrast of a children's playground in the middle of a warzone really hits home, as it reminds us that this war is being fought here, in our community, not some far away battlefield. The epilogue is a very patriotic one, and reminds us that freedom has to be fought for.
The ending (2012)
The MacGuffin, safely aboard a U.S. Army helicopter, is now in the hands of the Marines. They invite Matt and the surviving kids to come with them and leave the occupied zone, but Matt decides to stay, as do the rest. He's next seen giving the same speech Jed gave in the beginning of the movie, and leads a mob of civilians, holding up an American flag, into a charge toward... something. (It isn't shown what.)
This is clearly supposed to illustrate Matt's character development (he's prettymuch a douche throughout the rest of the movie) and to show the insurgency growing. It would have been much more powerful if we'd gotten an epilogue ending that let us know how that turned out. Instead, we don't KNOW how the war ends, we just sort of assume that now that the U.S. military has the MacGuffin they can use it to defeat the North Koreans. So yeah... go USA...
I know this commentary has rambled, and I apologize. Just wanted to get it out. I strongly encourage people to watch both movies and compare for themselves.
"He who takes offense when no offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool."
"Don't take refuge in the false security of consensus."