Many years ago, I watched the original Red Dawn. I know I did. I actually remember sitting down to watch it. And yet . . . and yet it’s like the entire experience was wiped from my mind, like something traumatic happened that my brain overwrote to protect itself. Aliens, I don’t know. The point is, it’s all gone.
At some point, I may revisit that past trauma. In the meantime, I decided to just watch the remake instead.
This probably doesn’t come as a shock, I’m sure, but it’s not very good.
The Chinese North Koreans have invaded America. It’s up to a bunch of teenagers . . . and Chris Hemsworth . . . to take it back.
1. Everyone laughed at the idea of a Red Dawn remake, including me, but it’s not actually such a terrible notion, at least in theory. America doesn’t have a lot of invasion movies, not where humans are the antagonists, anyway. You know, aliens invade. Zombies invade. Other nations? Not so much. And sure, teenagers as DEFENDERS OF THE REALM sounds pretty cheesy on paper, but the idea of adolescents having to put aside their high school dramas and step up to fight for something greater isn’t such a terrible metaphor for growing up, assuming it’s handled with a certain amount of subtlety.
Execution is another matter entirely, of course.
2. Sadly, Red Dawn has more than its fair share of problems. Writing is a big one.
Jed (Chris Hemsworth) is a marine who’s just come home for a brief leave, and Matt (Josh Peck) is his younger brother, a high school quarterback. I mention the quarterback thing in particular because when we meet Matt, he keeps disregarding the coach’s plays and eventually loses the game. And I’m like, Gee. Wonder if THAT’S thematically significant.
So, Jed and Matt have problems. Their mom died, see, and since then, things have been strained between them. I’ll leave the details of their confrontation for the Spoiler Section, but let me just tell you this much: their whole conflict is bullshit, clearly artificial and completely without depth. Their actual characters are just as one-note: Matt is whiny and annoying as all hell, and Jed . . . well, Jed’s a MARINE. That’s pretty much his whole personality.
Admittedly, the fault doesn’t completely lie with the writing. Acting is an issue too: Chris Hemsworth isn’t awful, but he can do a lot better than this, and Josh Peck . . . well, I’ve never seen Josh Peck in anything else, and judging by this performance, I don’t really need to. But still, even the very best actors wouldn’t have been able to make the Eckert brothers compelling. There just isn’t much to them.
Mind you, none of the characters have very much depth — some are clearly written just to be cannon fodder, which is a whole other problem — but the shitty writing is particularly apparent with our two protagonists. Their whole dynamic is about as by-the-numbers as it gets, and I didn’t really care if either of them lived or died.
3. On the other hand, Daryl and Robert are clearly the true dynamic duo of this movie.
Robert (Josh Hutcherson) and Daryl (Connor Cruise) have considerably less to work with than Hemsworth and Peck, but they’re much more enjoyable. I kind of wish they had been the protagonists of this story because they’re entertaining and relatable. Plus, that could actually have been kind of a fun angle: two sidekicks caught up in somebody else’s war. Also, Daryl’s story has the potential for much more interesting angst — so of course the writers choose to ignore it almost entirely for an opportunity to watch Jed and Matt bitch at each other again.
Oh well. At least Robert and Daryl will always have Subway. Their Subway scene is the best.
4. The basic structure of this movie is kind of problematic. We get our obligatory ten minute introduction to the characters: marine, whiny brother, love interest, girlfriend, nerds, etc. Then we get the initial takeover. That’s all fine, up to a point . . . my serious problems happen once we have the decision to fight back.
Because, first? The Inspirational Speech is just shit. It’s not incomprehensible, at least, (like Kristen Stewart’s speech in Snow White and the Huntsman), but it is very bland with all the inherent passion that I reserve for sorting socks. After that, we get this terrible training montage that skips through a very ill-defined passage of time. Then we do some terrorist shit, and some of that actually works, but then the big, Final Mission comes, and it doesn’t really feel like high enough stakes, probably because the main objective comes out of left field.
There are actually some solid bits in here — nothing I can describe above the Spoiler Section, naturally — but they’re buried in a lot of generic blah.
5. That’s pretty true of the action in general, honestly. When the movie isn’t concerned with throwing cars at our heroes . . . sigh . . . the action sequences can be kind of good. There aren’t nearly as many terrible CGI explosions as I was expecting, anyway.
6. Instead, CGI is mainly used to pretend that the filmmakers always intended the North Koreans to be the antagonists of this film, instead of the Chinese. There was never any way that this wasn’t going to be a Fail on so, so many levels.
If I were remaking this movie again . . . and don’t think I’m not considering a list . . . I feel like the best option would be to create some Imaginary Country. (And not some Imaginary Asian Country or some Imaginary Middle Eastern Country, but some Other Imaginary Country where you get a multitude of different ethnicities and skin colors.) Cause I figure, this type of movie, it’s not really about the enemies anyway, right? Do we really care why the invaders have come or what the political ramifications of their country attacking our country would be in the real world? Red Dawn — and really any good invasion movie — isn’t about the bad guys. It’s about the good guys, their trials, their losses, rising to the occasion, attempting to survive, and taking back their homes for the people they love.
And if it just has to be a real country — which I’m still not convinced it does — then we can’t half-ass the research. We need serious analysts and writers to make this story as convincing and accurate as humanely possible.
Also to write better exposition. Cause, man. That’s kind of shit in this movie.
Lot of potential gone to waste here.
Okay, so the North Koreans come, and the Eckert brothers — plus Jed’s love interest, our favorite Dynamic Duo, and a few red shirts — hole up for a while at their dad’s cabin. Their dad is the town sheriff, and he’s played by Brett Cullen, which can only mean one of two things: he’s an asshole, or he’s about to die. In this case, it’s the latter.
It happens like this: Captain Cho (Will Yun Lee) and his men find the cabin while the kids are out in the woods. Daryl’s dad — also the mayor — asks for the boys to come on out, saying that nothing bad will happen to them. Daddy Eckert, on the other hand, tells the boys that he loves them and asks them to fight back against the North Koreans. Cho kills Daddy Eckert while the kids watch. It’s actually not a terrible scene.
The group then argues about whether they should just surrender and go back to town where their families are. Robert is all set to leave until Toni (Adrianne Palicki) tells him that his parents have been killed. Then Jed the MARINE gives his shitty inspirational speech, and we montage through some bullshit training scenes and a few successful attacks against the North Koreans.
A few things of note:
A. In this movie, it is Robert who must learn the Will to Kill.
Robert’s also the one who vomits over dead bodies, but one of the minor things I like about his characterization is how he immediately continues to search the corpse for weapons or anything useful after he throws up — instead of, you know, crying and rocking back and forth or something while all the Real Men do the work.
B. While running from some bad guys, Robert, Daryl, and their Big Ass Guns take shelter in a Subway. Immediately realizing the potential in this, they knock over the restaurant. While Robert commands the sandwich artist — and I shit you not, he actually says sandwich artist — to fill his bag with bread, Daryl takes a giant bucket and fills it with soda. It is the best scene ever.
C. Matt’s girlfriend, Erica (Isabel Lucas), is imprisoned in the town — I’m actually not sure why she’s specifically in jail instead of just milling around like most people. Emo Matt sneaks off occasionally to stare at her mournfully. Jed the MARINE gets in his face about it. Their argument basically boils down to this:
Jed the MARINE: “You can’t endanger the mission for one life!”
Emo Matt: “She’s my FAMILY! She’s way more my family than YOU!”
Jed the MARINE: “MISSION FIRST!”
Emo Matt: “You SUCK!” (stomps off somewhere)
Of course, Emo Matt inevitably does endanger the mission — and inadvertently gets one of the team killed — in order to save Erica. See, the team plans to blow up this stage where Captain Cho and several other bad guys are, speechifying about something or other. (There’s a Russian guy there too, but I’m just ignoring the Russians because really. They might as well not even be in the movie.) Turns out, Daryl’s Daddy is also on the stage — because he’s become a collaborator — but Daryl only briefly pauses before acknowledging that the stage still needs to go. Daryl chooses the mission over family.
Emo Matt can’t do that, however. When he sees a bus go by with Erica in it, he fucks up the op in order to chase after it and free her. One of the guys, Greg, goes to help him and is quickly killed. Emo Matt doesn’t realize this until he and Erica get back to the gang’s hideout. Emo Matt then pouts in the woods for three days, rather than go inside and face Greg’s sister, Julie (Alyssa Diaz).
Eventually, Jed the MARINE goes to fetch him. They get into yet another argument where Emo Matt reveals the origins of their troubled relationship: after their mom died, Jed couldn’t handle his grief and ran away to the marines instead of staying home and mourning with his family. Emo Matt actually says, “I left for three days. You left for six years.”
Emo Matt is an asshole.
Seriously. These are not equatable situations. Jed had a hard time processing his grief over his mother’s death and went to serve in the armed forces. Matt, on the other hand, destroys a good chance to get rid of the North Korean leadership in the town (not to mention the chance to avenge his father’s death) and gets a boy killed in order to save his girlfriend from sitting in jail until the end of the movie. I mean, if she was on her way to be executed or something, I guess I’d get that, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the case. And really — Daryl was willing to sacrifice his father for this mission. If anyone had cause to screw up, you’d think it be him.
Worse, Emo Matt never shows any real guilt for what he’s done. Ever. His three-day mopefest doesn’t even remotely come off as actual remorse. When he goes back to the hideout, he looks at Julie, and — instead of breaking his fucking nose — she gives him a peace sign.
She is then promptly blown up.
Somehow — and I have no idea how — the North Koreans find out where the Wolverines are. (Oh yeah, that’s their name: the Wolverines. As far as football teams turned into revolutionaries go, it could have been worse. Imagine if they had been the Dolphins.) The bad guys blow up the Wolverine’s headquarters, instantly killing Julie and Danny (Edwin Hodge). This makes me sad for a few reasons:
1. I know Edwin Hodge from Cougar Town — where he plays a soldier with some damn nice arms — and I was kind of hoping for more of him.
2. Even without much in the way of personality, Julie is easily the most interesting of all the girls — probably because she isn’t just a love interest for one of our main heroes. And I like the scene where she’s stitching someone up even as she’s trying not to fall apart over the loss of her brother.
3. I could barely tell Julie had died at first. I saw Danny, but it took me a minute to count bodies and realize who was missing.
4. It would be nice if we could have less obvious red shirts, but if we absolutely must have them . . . maybe at least one should be a white person?
The rest of the Wolverines run away, and there’s one very weird shot where Robert falls to the ground and says something like I can’t go on, leave me, etc. The others drag him back up. Meanwhile, Mek and I look at each other like, What the hell, because the editing of that scene is bizarre. The only conclusion we come to is that Robert is a traitor and is either planting something in the dirt to leave a trail for the North Koreans to follow (Mek’s idea) or trying to be left behind so he can join up with the North Koreans (my idea). Mek and I don’t like the thought that Robert is a bad guy — since there’s been absolutely no buildup for such a twist — but the shot just doesn’t make sense otherwise, and anyway, how else did the bad guys find them?
Turns out, the shot just doesn’t make sense. And the bad guys found the Wolverines through MAGIC.
The Wolverines then meet up with Jeffrey Dean Morgan and his unit.
JDM has a plan to steal some Super Secret Weapon from the North Koreans . . . like, sure, guys, let’s just introduce this concept of the Super Secret Weapon twenty-five minutes from the end of the film . . . and they all go to snatch it. Important things that happen:
1. Jed the MARINE avenges his father and kills Captain Cho. Unfortunately, he has to say, “You fucked with the wrong family” before doing it.
2. Daryl is stabbed but escapes. No one seems especially concerned that this wound doesn’t hurt at all. Because they’re morons.
3 The funniest soldier in JDM’s unit is killed. Naturally. Humor gets you dead.
At their new, NEW hideout, Jed and Matt have a nice, bonding moment right before Jed gets shot in the head by a sniper. Now, Jed’s actual death isn’t bad. It happens very, very quickly, and even though I was expecting something terrible to happen, I don’t know if I was expecting that, at least, not so suddenly. So that’s good. On the other hand, it would have been absolutely shocking if the Good Times Before Everything Goes To Hell mood hadn’t already been cranked up to eleven. I mean, really. They might as well have been whistling.
Toni screams a lot, and to Adrianne Palicki’s credit, her crying over Jed’s dead body isn’t bad. Unfortunately, the two actors didn’t have much in the way of chemistry, and their whole relationship is so half-assed, it might as well not even have existed. It’s like the writers wrote the script and then remembered, hey, our lead hero’s gotta have a love interest too, right? Can’t leave all the hot girl action to the annoying little brother. Wouldn’t be right.
But moving on. Everyone else gets away, leaving Jed’s dead body behind. Later, Robert realizes that Daryl wasn’t just stabbed with a knife — the bad guys implanted a tracking device in him. Emo Matt — who is now supposed to be Badass Matt — tells Robert to take it out. Robert’s like, how? Which is a fair point. But it also takes him the longest to realize he’s going to be leaving his buddy behind.
And again, this isn’t a terrible scene, but — like Jed’s death — it would be a lot stronger if it wasn’t so damn predictable. Like choosing to leave behind a soldier, that’s a hard choice, and breaking up the dynamic duo, that’s sad too. I like the idea of this scene, but the second Daryl is stabbed, you’re like, okay, so he’s either been stabbed fatally and is in shock or — more likely — he’s been tagged with a tracking device. Let’s wait ten minutes before everyone else figures it out.
Also, I love how Toni screams in Daryl’s face for having the nerve to be stabbed with a tracking device — thus getting Jed killed — but nobody has that kind of reaction against Emo Matt when he chooses to ignore his teammates, thus getting Greg killed. You’d at least think Toni might apologize before she gets in a car and leaves Daryl to be captured or killed, but nope. Not that one.
The movie ends with the Wolverines choosing to stay behind and fight the good fight instead of going off with JDM to somewhere safer. Emo Matt gives the same bullshit speech his brother gave towards the beginning of the movie, and it’s no more inspiring now than it was then. Probably less. Also, The Wolverines rescue all the prisoners from the internment camp that Erica was at before.
So, you know. It’s good to see how Greg died for absolutely nothing.
Robert: “They’re not going to keep their uber box in the freaking couch.”
Daryl: “How do you know?”
Robert: “It’s a vital piece of military equipment, not your porn stash.”
Jed: “Marines don’t die. They go to Hell and regroup.”
(talking about what they miss)
Daryl: “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.”
Robert: “Dude, we’re living Call of Duty. It sucks.”
Robert: “Sandwich Artist! Fill this shit with bread!”
(I’m very amused that the best two quotes in the whole movie — completely unrelated quotes, mind — have the words “sandwich”, “shit”, and “bread” in them.)
Not as gloriously bad as I was expecting but certainly not good. Any small moments of worthiness are mostly overshadowed by the bland script and general lack of creativity.
CHARACTER WHO MOST DESERVES TO BE SLAPPED WITH A BIG, SMELLY, DEAD FISH:
If you want to survive, er, be white? Out of nine Wolverines, only one white guy died, whereas all of the brown kids were killed off or left for dead.
. . . yeah. That’s not good.