Directed by: Dan Bradley
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Josh Peck, Adrianne Palicki and Jeffery Dean Morgan
Runtime: 1 hour 33 minutes
Release Date: November 21, 2013
The original Red Dawn wasn't a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination and its premise, while a great setting for a war action film, was utterly preposterous. But you really have to look at the time the film was released to understand why it succeeded as much as it did. Not only was the Cold War at its peak before its ultimately demise, but there was also a large stable of young actors who were looking to make a name for themselves and eventually went on to become some of the biggest stars of the 80's.
Remaking Red Dawn and updating it for a newer audience seemed like a bad idea from the moment it was mentioned. We are at a point now where there is no clear enemy of the United States, so who would they possibly choose to have invade America that would sound plausible? Also, that original used the fear all Americans felt during that era to great effect and made it easy to look past its silly premise of another country invading America. Lastly, the remake would likely never find the excellent number of young actors to fill those same roles.
But beyond even those apprehensions towards remaking the film, somehow director Dan Bradley did the impossible and crafted an update that is not a total crapfest. The action scenes are well done, there is a consistent sense of danger and fear that this new group of Wolverines might not make it out alive and lastly, the film holds true to many of the themes that the original film had. He was even able to wrangle up some solid young actors that don't hold a candle to the likes of a young Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, Jennifer Grey, Lea Thompson and C. Thomas Howell, but having a pre-famous Chris Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson is better than nothing.
Where the film ultimately fails to make an impact though is that for some reason this war on American soil doesn't feel like a war most of the time. There is never this sense of an on going battle outside the small city the Wolverines are held up in or how the original film was able to convey the length of the war through the ever changing seasons. Likewise, most of these kids become pretty battle hardened a little too quickly and do some pretty impressive stuff for a group of teenagers, most of which isn't all that different from the original, but here their evolution feels more forced. What balances it out though is when reality does finally settle in the Wolverines begin dropping like flies which serves as a stark reminder that they are indeed only kids.
Unfortunately the enemy is also poorly drawn. Instead of Russia and Cuba making an alliance to take down America, it is supposed to be North Korea and some special Spetnaz Russian brigade of some sort. What was really distracting though more so than this unlikely alliance is that a year before the film was released, the studio made the decision to change the enemy from China to North Korea and if you watch closely enough you can tell when dialog was dubbed over with the new language and that some of the actors are clearly not of Korean descent, which draws you out of the film more than anything else.
The last nitpick to bring up is how this new Red Dawn still felt the need to retain some of the plot points and character arcs from the original. While it is a nice touch to see those enemy commandos raining down from the skies or see the kids go hunting and play a prank on each other with a ritual that comes with a kill, most of these regurgitated scenes from the original meld that well with the new direction they head in. Probably the most awkward and throwaway moment is when it is discovered how the enemy is able to locate them anywhere they go. In the original this turn of events led to paranoia and watching good friends turn on one another, but here it is just a quick way to ditch a character as quickly as possible. Worst of all is that each time you are reminded of the original, all you can think of is how much better that original still is compared to this update.
The Red Dawn remake wasn't necessary, would never be as good or as relevant as the original in multiple ways and could never match the incredible cast of young stars. Yet the reality is that this remake isn't as bad as you might think it is. While the threat doesn't feel as real this time and the cast includes only a couple of standouts, the action is well done and it still retains the realism (as goofy as it is) that original was able to convey about a group of teens fighting a war in their own backyard.