By Scott Tibbs, April 23, 2013
The original Red Dawn in 1984 was a classic - a surprise invasion by Soviet ground troops leads to the occupation of a significant portion of the United States. Once you get past the fact that such an invasion was highly unlikely, the story of some high school kids fighting a guerrilla war against the occupying Soviets was a great story. The Soviets were a believable enemy and the movie played on Cold War fears.
The new Red Dawn? The movie is fine, the action is great and the characters are engaging, but the premise is simply laughable. The North Koreans are invading us? Really? North Korea was not exactly a believable enemy in Olympus Has Fallen, but that was a commando strike against the White House, not a full blown invasion of the West Coast! You cannot expect your audience to take North Korea seriously as an invading army.
If a remake of Red Dawn was going to be made, it should have been China as the invading force. Despite its huge population, China does not have the capacity to launch a full-scale invasion of the United States, but China is a far more believable enemy than North Korea. The studio decided not to offend China, so the enemy suddenly became North Korea. If you cannot use China, why not set the movie in 1984 and have the Soviets invade again?
North Korea (guffaw!) is able to shut down U.S. defenses with an electromagnetic pulse, enabling the invasion. They have a special device that protects them from being harmed by the EMP. There are all kinds of problems with this, and it would be easier to suspend disbelief if the movie was more science-fiction oriented - perhaps if the invading army was Cobra in a G.I. Joe sequel. It is out of place in a movie that is supposed to take place in the real world.
Despite these problems, the movie is enjoyable. Chris Hemsworth does a great job as Jed, and his relationship with his brother Matt (and the disciplinary problems he has with Matt as Jed tries to mold the kids into a formidable resistance cell) is well done. The scene with Matt screaming "WOLVERINES!" as the resistance cell is attacking the North Korean (guffaw!) occupying force in the streets to prevent the execution of one of their contacts is just awesome and makes you want to stand up and cheer.
If there is a problem from a storytelling perspective (other than the issue of not having a credible enemy) it is that you never really get the sense that the Wolverines are in a desperate situation. It takes almost no time at all for a bunch of high school kids to become legitimate soldiers, and they are far too effective against the occupying army. The situation does not become really desperate until the final scene, which is unfortunate.
The movie would have been better with more tension - making the stakes much higher and the objective more unattainable. Having Jed proclaim the Wolverines cannot win in a straight up fight and then have them decisively win a straight up fight does not help matters. It winds up being more of a feel good patriotic movie than the story of following a ragtag resistance cell fighting impossible odds.
Overall, this is worth a rental, though it's not something I would own on DVD.
Final Grade: B.