Fantastic Fest 2012: MGM's 'Red Dawn' Remake is Satisfying Enough
by Jeremy Kirk
October 4, 2012
Wolverines! Yes, it's what the 1984 actioner Red Dawn is most known for. Yes, it's a line that's repeated in remake. And yes, it's every bit as cheesy as you remember. Thankfully, that moment in all of its '80s haze of nostalgia is NOT indicative of the remake. This version of Red Dawn works around its hokier tropes—of which there are several—and delivers a nice blast of a film by way of family drama, which is continuously supported by a quite amazing troupe of young actors. The bad guy mixup is well documented and noticeable, but that too falls aside to let sheer enjoyable action entertainment take over. I repeat. Wolverines!
The image of dozens of parachutes deploying over our skies as part of an apparent invasion was always a haunting image from the original. It's an image overblown by CG here, the dozens turning into hundreds, but the intense feeling of dread still comes with it. This time around, the parachuted invaders are North Korean and the invaded territory is the rainy forests of Washington instead of Colorado. The dynamic is much the same. A group of teenagers hide out in the wilderness as they regroup and form plans to take back control of their hometown. Drama ensues among the group, particularly between two brothers who have lost their father in the invasion. Chris Hemsworth and Josh Peck play them in the remake.
Hemsworth and Peck play off each others role effectively, drawing the viewer into every sibling rivalry spat that builds up and explodes between them. There might not be the most likability to them at times, especially for Peck who's roped with the part of the brash, younger brother who always does things his way. But Peck's acting strength pushes through any amount of disconnection one might have with his character. Hemsworth once again steps in as leader of the group, and once again he knocks it out of the park taking charge of every scene and situation his character finds himself in. Giving him an Iraq War veteran backstory helps those emotional beats as well as the action pieces.
And this is where the Red Dawn remake works best. The action is effective enough with first-time director Dan Bradley working his way in and out of every set piece. Though at times its too shaky, remnants of a near-bygone era finding their way back into this film, which was actually shot in 2009. They were still employing the shaky cam technique like sync sound in those days, and Red Dawn is not a film that tried to shake that unwelcome trope. As rough as Bradley's cinematography is, there's still an understanding of how every action scene goes down. Unlike some action movies where it's a random, blurred image shooting at another, random, blurred image, you're able to follow the actors here. Of course, everyone they're shooting at is Chinese, and lengths aren't gone very far to get to know more than a few of them.
It all plays just like you expect it to, a few of the teens dying to keep the realism of the film's violence out in front of you. A few come out of nowhere, hitting a beat of shock like few films have been able to do recently. Unfortunately, the structure of the film allows for shocking moments and a fine, final set piece, but it all ends on such a whimper that the biggest shock of all is when the credits begin rolling. The ambiguity of the original's ending was well enough. There was still a finality to it, but the new film ends like the pilot episode of the "Red Dawn" TV series would end. As long as there's a new episode coming next week, it works fine. As a stand-alone, it's attempt to set up for a sequel is both jarring and undeserved.
This remake won't be going down in history as one of the great, war movies of all time. Not even the original Red Dawn holds that honor, but it does still work as satisfyingly engaging shoot-'em-up with enough heart to make all the flying bullets count. The same elements work with the remake, combining emotional storytelling with blockbuster action pieces, not all of them as interesting or as exciting as they should be, but well enough to keep you interested until the next one comes along. As Josh Hutcherson, another stand-out in the film's young cast, shouts the famous line, it's meant to strike a chord, to have the audience standing from their seats and applauding along with a sentiment of home-grown Americana. It doesn't quite pull that off, but the grin it puts on your face until another, decent, action set piece shows up is just enough.
Wolverines? Sure, why not.
Jeremy's Fantastic Fest Rating: 6.5 out of 10