Directed by Dan Bradley
Written by Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore
Cinematography by Mitchell Amundsen
Music Composed by Ramin Djawdi
Chris Hemsworth ... Jed Eckert
Adrianne Palicki ... Toni
Josh Hutcherson ... Robert
Josh Peck ... Matt Eckert
Isabel Lucas ... Erica
Jeffrey Dean Morgan ... Col. Andy Tanner
Connor Cruise ... Daryl Jenkins
Edwin Hodge ... Danny
Alyssa Diaz ... Julie
Brett Cullen ... Tom Eckert
Michael Beach ... Mayor Jenkins
Will Yun Lee ... Captain Lo
Matt Gerald ... Hodges
Kenneth Choi ... Smith
Runtime: 93 min
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense war violence and action, and for language Official Website
There are so many things wrong with the 2012 remake of Red Dawn that it is almost easy to give it a poor review. However, there is something about the movie that left me with a smile on my face when it ended. If there is a definition of a guilty pleasure, a movie that is enjoyable despite all its downfalls, this movie might fall into that category. Before I start this review, I encourage you to ignore whatever score I decide to give it and just read what problems I had with it. Then, you can determine if those are bad enough to keep you from enjoying the movie.
The new Red Dawn makes one pretty big change from the original 1984 film. The bad guys are now Koreans instead of Russians, which makes sense because the Soviet Union is no longer dangerous to world peace. However, that does not mean the title is out of place, because the Russians still play a role by allying themselves with the Koreans in the attack on the United States. The two movies open the exact same way, with the news that led to this point in history. Unlike the text used in the 1984 version, news clips and manipulated footage from real newscasters and politicians set the political tone of the film.
As a matter of fact, many of the events from the original movie appear in this one, but this is not a straight copy of the original film. The new version tries to add in a number of scenes that add depth to the story and make you actually care more about the characters and events than the original did. These scenes are all really hit and miss when it comes to adding anything to the film.
One thing that some people might dislike is that the new movie is filled with a lot more hope than the classic one. That didn't bother me at all and I think it made it a better theatrical experience. The original movie was full of the teen stars of the era but remained a dark, serious movie. The new version also has some of today's hottest young talent, but this one keeps it lighter and more exciting. It is entertaining instead of dark.
The best change in the movie is to make the kids more hands-on when it comes to fighting. In the original movie, the kids were in hiding and undertook random attacks on the Russians before they found the downed helicopter and the U.S. military men start to help them. These soldiers take the form of "Basil Exposition" and tell the kids what happened to the country before helping them make a bigger dent in their war against the Russians.
In the new movie, The Wolverines do a lot of damage to the Koreans and the military men seek them out because they heard about the fighting and The Wolverines actually have influenced other groups across the United States to fight back as well. It makes our heroes more heroic and less victims in this fight, and this makes sense because Chris Hemsworth's Jed is a soldier himself, at home on leave. The ending also changed, although there are still many deaths. In this movie, the real heroes are the kids who become adults and lead the battles to retake their country. That works much better than the deus ex machina of the original movie.
I was also very impressed with Chris Hemsworth. The guy is more than just Thor, and between that movie, The Cabin in the Woods and Red Dawn, I feel Hemsworth is one of the best young actors working today. I also enjoyed the performance of Josh Hutcherson in the movie and felt the acting was pretty great all around. Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Matt Gerald were also standouts when they showed up as the Marines later in the movie ("Marines don't die, they just find each other in Hell and regroup").
Let's talk about what does not work in this movie. To start off, we'll look at the script. This is a script that hammers the viewer over the head with its messages. The first real scene in the movie is Matt (Josh Peck) playing in a football game. He chooses to do what he wants over what is best for the team and loses the game as a result. Of course, this ties in with the lesson he has to learn in the movie. It is generic and boring when it comes to story structure.
This film also does something that is almost unforgivable, and that is throwing in characters to move the plot forward and then forgetting about them. Some characters join up and then are never seen again. When the kids first make a break for it, after the Koreans attack the town, one kid jumps in the bed of the truck to make it to safety, but is quickly launched out and into the window of a Korean jeep, supposedly killing him instantly. No one ever mentions him again. Many people show up and die, never to be heard from again. Daryl's dad, the mayor, once again plays into the story as someone who tries to work with the Koreans to save the townspeople but we never see what happens to him. When movies ignore characters and leave plot holes like this, it always hurts the story.
Another big problem is the camera work. Paul Greengrass is a master of shaky-cam and did a great job in the Bourne movies. Most of the imitators don't know what they are doing and their camerawork takes away from the movie instead of adding to it. This was Dan Bradley's first movie as a director, but he worked on the Bourne movies as a second unit director. He may know how to move the camera, but he does not understand why you should move it. This movie's action and chase scenes were horribly shot and really detracted from the movie.
His direction also fails when it comes to pacing and setting up suspense. When someone dies, you should feel surprised and shocked. It should never, ever, be setup where everyone knows that someone is about to bite the bullet. In the movie's most important death, Bradley does everything he can to set up the death to "mean something" but what happens is that you are just sitting there waiting for the death to come. Even if you never saw the first movie, there are moments in this movie where everything is telegraphed so clearly that all that lacked was a neon sign proclaiming you should REMEMBER THIS SCENE.
The 411: Poor directing with a poorly structured script should mark the death knell for a movie. However, this movie had some really good acting by the youngsters in the lead roles and the plot itself was really fun. If you can get past the signposts that Bradley made sure spoiled all surprises, and the directing that makes it impossible to keep up with, and just want to see a good story underneath it all, this might be a good movie to catch. However, I'd suggest waiting for it to hit video because there isn't much worth seeing on the big screen.