I’m finally reviewing the remake of Red Dawn, 12 years after it came out. Better late than never, right?

The original Red Dawn, released in 1984, is one of my favorite 80’s movies. Despite the plot being kind of unrealistic (those women surviving in the mountains with Charlie Sheen? Doubtful.), it’s still a good 80’s action movie, with a talented cast and a great blend of action and emotional intensity. For its time it was fairly unique. Sure, plenty of movies released during the Cold War depicted a Soviet invasion of the United States mainland, but few did it with the amount of realism that Red Dawn delivered. Yes, I just said the plot was kind of unrealistic, but as far as unrealistic scenarios go the invasion depicted in Red Dawn was still pretty grounded. While we now know that Russia is one of the biggest paper tigers in history, we didn’t really know this back in the 80’s, so the idea of the Soviets mounting a successful invasion of the American mainland wasn’t really unfeasible to us when this movie came out. The plot gets a pass from me.

So when a remake of this classic was announced for 2012, I was both skeptical and excited.

The remake, usually called Red Dawn 2012, took the premise of the original Red Dawn and modernized it. Instead of the Soviets invading the United States, it was North Korea. Of course, this was panned universally. North Korea couldn’t even really launch a missile let alone an invasion of homeland America. The invading nation was originally supposed to be China, but after outcry from China the main bad guy was changed in post-production to North Korea. A Chinese invasion may have been slightly more believable, so I won’t be too hard on the film for its use of North Korea as the villain.

The casting in Red Dawn 2012 also showed promise. Chris Hemsworth, Adrianne Palicki, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Josh Peck, all fairly talented actors. A still relatively unknown Hemsworth was also filming Thor around the same time (Red Dawn 2012 began filming in late 2009 with original release date being slated for 2010), while Adrianne Palicki had Friday Night Lights under her belt. Jeffrey Dean Morgan was, of course, known for his roles on The Walking Dead and Supernatural. Josh Peck had a significant career as a child actor, starring in kid shows and movies like Drake and Josh or Max Keeble’s Big Move. These weren’t super-big names at the time of filming, but they weren’t complete nobodies either. By the time Red Dawn 2012 finally got its 2012 release date, Hemsworth was already riding high from smashing the box offices as Thor and was starting to become the big name he is today, so his role was promoted a little more prominently. The casting for Red Dawn 2012 was one of the deciding factors that convinced me to go see the movie when it came out in theaters.

Kind of like how the original movie opened with text explaining the buildup to the war, the remake begins with a series of news broadcasts that kind of explain the buildup, basically saying that a Kim Jong Un-led North Korea has allied itself with an ultranationalist Russian government, and an economic crisis in the European Union has weakened NATO. It also mentions that US troop deployment abroad has left America vulnerable, and that American infrastructure has become increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks. I wasn’t a big fan of this “explanation”, it felt haphazard and rushed and made little sense. It also doesn’t take into account the fact that our overseas bases are actually strategic assets that allow us to counter threats quicker. From what I understand, the original backstory had the Chinese “repossessing” America after America defaulted on its loans. This sounds slightly better than what we actually got, especially since our debt to China was and still kind of is a topical issue. I don’t think the Chinese repo man is actually going to come knocking at our doors anytime soon, but it’s still interesting to think about, and definitely more believable than North Korea launching an invasion of the continental United States.

While the original took place in Colorado, Red Dawn 2012 takes place closer to the western shores in Spokane, Washington. I actually kind of liked this change. One of the things that I never quite understood in the original Red Dawn was why there was no warning of the invasion. Colorado is about 1,000 miles from the Pacific Ocean. There’s absolutely no way that the Russians advanced 1,000 miles from the west and the South American coalition advanced the 1,400 miles north from Mexico without anyone alerting Colorado what was coming. NORAD is based in Colorado too. Red Dawn 2012 kind of fixes this plot hole by moving the setting to Spokane, allowing the town to be properly surprised by the sudden mass of planes and troops dropping from the skies.

I also appreciated having one of the main characters, Jed Eckert (Chris Hemsworth), actually be a veteran. This allows for a plausible explanation of how a bunch of teenagers were able to become an effective resistance cell and carry out guerilla warfare against the invading forces. It also allowed for one of my favorite scenes in the movie, where Jed is teaching the kids to shoot properly and one kid insists on having a TEC-9 because it’s cool. Jed tells the kid to fire it at a nearby tree, which he does and misses virtually every shot, because the weapon is notoriously inaccurate and impractical for combat.

The invasion begins with a blackout one night. That following morning, the town wakes up to find the sky full of transport planes and descending North Korean paratroopers. Jed and his brother Matt flee to their mountain cabin, where they’re joined by their friends and a stranger who later goes turncoat and betrays their location to Captain Cho (the commanding officer of the North Koreans in Spokane). Cho brings the Eckert brothers’ father, local police sergeant Tom Eckert, out to the cabin and tells him to convince the group to surrender. Instead, Tom gives a speech telling them to keep fighting, and the group watches from the bush as Cho shoots Tom point-blank in a scene that’s meant to be reminiscent of the original where the townsfolk are lined up and mass-executed.

I was happy that, while Red Dawn 2012 drew from the original, it also attempted to be its own thing and tell a slightly different story. With the state of the world during the last 20 years, Red Dawn might be one of the few movies that could properly benefit from not only being remade, but also having aspects of the story changed. That’s what Red Dawn 2012 essentially did. Classic scenes like the boys watching their father die or the ever-iconic “WOLVERINES!” were still there, they were just slightly different. Instead of standing on a cliff screaming “WOLVERINES!”, Matt screams it from a roof top, and the neighbors join in chanting it with him. I thought this was a nice touch. Rather than trying to recreate such an iconic scene, they gave it the amount of respect it deserved by referencing it but not trying to copy it. You couldn’t have a Red Dawn movie without someone screaming “WOLVERINES!”, but there’s no way in hell you’re going to recapture the original magic of young Charlie Sheen screaming it from a cliff (nowadays he’d probably be screaming “WINNING!”). Red Dawn 2012 found the perfect balance that remakes should strive for. Don’t try to recreate the old movie shot-for-shot, but don’t ignore its classic moments.

I also enjoyed the change of scenery from the original. As I said, the remake changed the setting from a small mountain town in Colorado (Calumet, which in real life is an abandoned mining town) to Spokane, Washington. While most of the fighting in the original took place in mountains and deserts, Red Dawn 2012‘s action mostly took place in an urban environment, which allowed for a more robust depiction of the occupation. Spokane is the perfectly sized city for this, it’s not a small town but it’s also not some sprawling metropolis like LA or New York City. We’re essentially getting to see how the average American is handling the occupation, something that the original movie didn’t really touch on other than a passing reference to “half a million scarecrows in Denver”. While hiding in the hills gives guerilla forces a huge advantage in real life, there’s only so much you can actually do when telling a story in that setting. Guerilla warfare works better in an urban setting, and we see this throughout the movie, with the Wolverines executing hit-and-run attacks and taking advantage of streets and alleyways to get away. In another scene, they attack a speech by North Korean officials, while casually warning innocent bystanders that “Some shit’s about to go down”. This wouldn’t work that great in a small town setting, but it works perfectly in a city.

The scene where the Wolverines rob a Subway gets a lot of flack for being an obvious product placement, and I’m not really sure why. Of course it’s a product placement (obviously), but it wasn’t shoehorned in like many other product placements in movies (the “vintage 2005” Converse in I, Robot comes to mind). It would make sense for them to raid a fast food place, it would also make sense that Subway has a presence in Spokane. Even them sarcastically calling the worker “sandwich artist” fit the scene. I’m not sure why this scene in particular got so much criticism, it fit in with the rest of the movie just fine.

In the original Red Dawn, the invading force consisted of the Soviets and a coalition of South American nations (particularly Cuba and Nicaragua). One of the best things about the original was how it depicted those invaders. While most “America vs Russia” movies from the 80’s often depicted the Russians as evil cold-blooded killers, Red Dawn depicted most of the invaders as regular soldiers there to do the job they were told to do. The film essentially humanizes them, especially Cuban general Ernesto Bella, who grows disillusioned with the war and ultimately decides not to shoot at the fleeing Eckert brothers. This was very poignant commentary that served to remind us that yes, even the bad guys are human beings too at the end of the day. I appreciate when war movies do this, and I appreciate that Red Dawn didn’t resort to the same stereotypes that similar movies of its time did. Red Dawn 2012 didn’t really humanize the invading soldiers in the same way the original did, but Captain Cho and most of the North Koreans are still depicted as professionals on a mission.

The Russians are also present, in the form of a Spetsnaz unit supporting Captain Cho. They don’t play as large of a roll as they did in the original, but they make their presence known in the second and third acts of the movie by foiling the attempted bombing, tagging Daryl with a tracker, and killing Jed. Like the North Koreans, they’re portrayed as professionals, and the movie doesn’t fall back on the “evil Russian” stereotypes we’re so used to seeing. The Spetsnaz unit operates and behaves exactly how you’d expect the Spetsnaz to (pre-Ukraine, anyway): Tacit and efficient, tracking their targets and striking with cold calculated precision. They’re there to do a job, not be dicks.

The movie also features Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Colonel Tanner, one of three US Marines sent to occupied America to obtain Captain Cho’s secure phone, which could be used to listen in on enemy communications. Jeffrey Dean Morgan was the perfect choice to do Powers Boothe’s character, he even sort of looks like him a little. The other two Marines are kind of cookie cutter Jarhead stereotypes (“Marines don’t die, they go to hell to regroup”), but I didn’t find them to be annoying. I also liked that one of them was an American-born Korean, and he creates a distraction by using the enemy radios to yell “The vicious rodents are attacking!” in Korean, showing that he’s an American first and foremost.

The original Red Dawn ends with a shot of a war memorial and the implication that the United States eventually won the war. Red Dawn 2012 leaves things a bit more ambiguous with its ending. While both of the brothers as well as Toni died in the original, in the remake Matt and Toni both survive, and the final scene switches between the Wolverines liberating an internment camp (including Erica driving a Mustang with a machine gun mounted on top) and Matt giving a rousing speech to recruit more members to the resistance.

Red Dawn 2012 ended up being a box office flop, and I’m really not sure why. Maybe because it was competing against Skyfall, Twilight, and Wreck-It Ralph? Some critics complained about the acting and the special effects, but I personally didn’t see anything wrong with either. Another common complaint was that the scenario was unrealistic and the movie was too political. Too political? It’s a movie about a communist nation invading and occupying America, of course there’s going to be politics. As for the scenario, it wasn’t entirely unrealistic, especially if you watch it knowing that China was originally the main enemy. The movie explains how everything happened, albeit poorly due to the last minute change. Is the scenario improbable? Yes. Is it impossible? No.

I’m not saying it was the movie of the year or anything, but it definitely didn’t deserve the hate it got. As far as remakes go, it wasn’t really that bad.

All in all, I’d rate Red Dawn 2012 a 5/10. It could have been way better, but it could have been so much worse. It’s worth at least one watch if you’re a fan of the original.

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By Angry_Jerk

The CEO/Editor-in-chief of AJnet, and the current king of internet ranting. Hailing from the fine village of Northeast Philadelphia, AJ has been creating content on the internet for over 15 years. None of it has really been funny or entertaining, but he keeps trying anyway. When he’s not creating new articles for the site, he can be found hitting the weights, watching anime, or playing retro video games.