I don't know what pisses me off more about "Red Dawn" 2012 edition: the fact that it's recruitment-baiting war porn, or the fact that it's not even good recruitment-baiting war porn. Yes indeed, it's time for yet another middling remake of an already so-so 80s hallmark, so you already know the story: foreign armies invade America, most of a small town and its authority figures are captured, and a young group of kids - dubbing themselves the Wolverines, after their high school sports' teams - begin to fight back, insurgent style, to defend their homeland.
The leader of the group is Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth, looking suspiciously younger than he has in other recent films. That's because this picture, where he and a group of his high-school brothers' buddies (Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson, and Connor Cruise among them) rush out to the family cabin and prepare to wage guerrilla warfare against the foreign invaders who killed their father, was shot in 2009 and has been sitting on the shelf undergoing editorial changes ever since. And as far as "movies, featuring Chris Hemsworth hanging out at a family retreat, that have been sitting on the shelf for the past three years," this is no "The Cabin in the Woods." That film went unreleased for being a bit too esoteric; a bit too inside-baseball. This one is just terrible.
It’s all a post-Vietnam wet dream anyway. Who wouldn’t want to see those roles reversed? Americans get to be the marginalized again, the underdog, forced underground and driven to extreme measures to protect not just our government, but also our families and our homes. In other words, the plot allows us to not just commit really brutal acts of violence on foreign people, but it completely removes the question of justification.
It may sound like I hate the concept itself, but the original film, produced in 1984 and starring Patrick Swayze, actually kind of works. That’s due to the fact that it was directed by right-wing nut-job John Milius, and that its premise, of Russians invading during the Cold War, hit much closer to home. Some called it borderline-fascist - I’m not sure I agree - but either way, it had an admirable sense of sincerity to it.
See, Milius took the premise with complete seriousness. His film felt like a cheap version of "The Battle of Algiers" while director Dan Bradley’s remake feels like a made-for-TV "Hunger Games" knockoff. Milius amped up the stakes and put his characters through the ringer; asking questions about the morality of violence, about loyalty to individual people vs. loyalty to your country, about the true price of war, and about whether Americans, always fighting on foreign soil, have ever recognized that cost. Bradley’s remake doesn’t care about the morals. It’s all about the melodrama.
And so these Wolverines don’t struggle with their newfound role as insurgents, or with complexes developed after having to stare down their friends as they die cold, unforgiving deaths (this version is PG-13; so all the violence occurs oh-so-conveniently outside the frame.) They just struggle with their hormones, with selfishness, with arguments inside the group, and with other teenage conflicts that would feel right at home in MTV’s "Laguna Beach." The questions here aren’t about land or country. They’re about "when is Josh Peck going to get to see his girlfriend next?"
As if it couldn’t get any sillier, one of those aforementioned editorial changes was digitally altering the invading country from China to North Korea. Never mind the racist connotations that come with pretending these people "all look the same," and that all it takes is a little Photoshop work on the flags to alter their identities. It ruins the emotional pull of the original one - in fact, it leaves it feeling like a parody.
North Koreans Para-troop in en masse and take over our airwaves to run propaganda 24/7? Sorry, but that’s closer to a "30 Rock" joke than a real-world fear. The idea of war with China, a horrifying prospect, has some economic and political context (even if it’s actually happening will, God willing, almost certainly never happen.) That, I imagine, is exactly why the concept was digitally dropped. That complete lack of interest in anything rooted towards "reality" is exactly why this film is so insulting.
Watching Josh Hutcherson, shit-eating grin and all, pump up his AK-47 (looking like a kid on Halloween) and screaming "Wolverines!" is one of the most laughably misguided movie moments of the year. I can only imagine how terrible it would be if he wasn’t retroactively rendered as a "Hunger Games" heartthrob, and was instead just a sickly looking white kid.
The film sanitizes war, makes it look exciting, almost desirable. In short, it treats it like a high school football game. If the subtext of Milius’ picture was that his kids realized nothing in their lives prepared them for the horrors of combat, the subtext of Bradley’s is that the horrors of combat aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. The fact that the kids cross that line, from students into killers, is the heart of the original and ignored in the remake.
This is corporate-claptrap, plain and simple, not even interesting enough in the political implications to be derided as propaganda. It’s recruitment-bait all right, making violence invisible and heroic patriotism the name of the game, but it feels more like an offshoot of the premise than an actual interest of the filmmaker. I don’t think he has any actual interests.
The most honest moment here is the product placement: we don’t just have a scene set in Subway, but a whole riff on it. One of our characters framed heroically, calls upon the "sandwich artist" behind the counter to provide him with supplies; food that eventually keeps our kids’ - and thus, our countries’ - fighting will intact. I suppose it’s a fitting flourish. This film is as shitty as their sandwiches.