If there was ever a good reason to remake the '80s chestnut Red Dawn, it would be to bring John Milius's teenage action movie kicking and screaming into the 21st century in a version that didn't resemble such a Cold War relic. And that seems to have been the motivating idea behind this new, updated Dawn that's finally opening in theaters a full three years after it wrapped production in 2009. (The movie fell victim to the bankruptcy of its original studio MGM -- the same plight that delayed the release of Joss Whedon's The Cabin in the Woods, which was made around the same time and received a belated theatrical release last April.) Funnily enough, in the relatively short amount of time, the new Red Dawn already seems as dated as its 1984 predecessor. Her are four ways that this largely pointless remake feels so 2009:
1. North Korea is the Big Bad
Although it was made in the waning years of the Cold War, the original Red Dawn still effectively played on the latent suspicions that many Americans had regarding the Soviet Union. These days, though, when the USSR is long gone and Russia is a valued ally, the film's comically over-the-top portrayal of Mickey Mouse-hating Russkies inspires laughs rather than fear. Perhaps the biggest challenge the makers of the new Dawn faced was deciding which country in the contemporary geopolitical realm could be viewed as viable threat. Originally, they settled on China, which does make a certain degree of sense considering how financially indebted we are to that rising superpower. But the Chinese understandably weren't happy to hear they were going to serve as the villains in the revised Red Dawn and with Hollywood eager to not lose access to that all-important market, the decision was made to swap out China for North Korea, where the movie was never going to get a legal theatrical release anyway. (Interestingly, this change happened after the movie was shot, which means extensive post-production tinkering was required to change the nationality of the invading armies.)
At the time, North Korea still seemed vaguely threatening, due both to its inclusion in the Axis of Evil as well as its successful detonation of a nuclear device in May of 2009. In the years since, however, the country's militaristic ruler, Kim Jong-il, died and was replaced by his younger son, Kim Jong-un, who has taken pains to be viewed as a kinder, gentler despot. More significantly, in April 2012, North Korea suffered a very public humiliation when it launched a ballistic missile that exploded 90 seconds after launching. This, coupled with the increasing reports of economic turmoil and shortages of basic goods and services that are escaping from within the country's sealed borders, makes the notion of the North Korean army being able to mount a full-scale invasion sound like one of Dick Cheney's fever dreams rather than a legitimate threat. And if you don't buy the threat, then a new Red Dawn is in trouble from the get-go.
2. The Cast Consists of Actors Who Are Either Too Famous or Completely Forgotten
When Milius cast his version of Red Dawn, he was fortunate to pick young actors -- among them, Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Charlie Sheen and Lea Thompson -- who were all still on the same relative level of fame. And, to be fair, that was also the case when new Dawn director Dan Bradley initially put together his ensemble in 2009. After all, at that point, Chris Hemsworth (who plays Jed Eckert, the leader of the Wolverines -- the teen soldiers that cast off the yoke of North Korean oppression) was still just a strapping Australian import most famous for playing Kirk's doomed dad in the opening scene of the Star Trek reboot; Josh Hutcherson (as resident gadget genius, Robert) was still in kiddie flick territory, having starred in Bridge to Terabithia and Journey to the Center of the Earth; and Adrianne Palicki (as warrior woman, Toni) was being primed to take her hottitude from Friday Night Lights to the big screen. Funnily enough, the movie's biggest stars at the time it was shot were probably Josh Peck (who plays Jed's rebellious brother, Matt), one of the stars of the hit Nickelodeon comedy, Drake & Josh) and Isabel Lucas (as Matt's easily-kidnapped girlfriend, Erica), who had just appeared in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen where she briefly tempted Shia LaBeaouf away from Megan Fox.
Fast-forward three years, of course, and Hemsworth and Hutcherson are both part of major franchises (Thor and The Hunger Games respectively) while Peck, Palicki and Lucas are in the process of dropping from the B-list to the C-list. (Another once-hot, now-not cast member is Jeffrey Dena Morgan as an older militia member; in 2009, Morgan was much in demand, popping up in movies like Watchmen, The Losers and Taking Woodstock. Then all of those tanked and he's currently doing time as the star of Magic City, the Starz series that nobody watches.) The enormous fame imbalance that exists between the stars can't help but throw off the movie; the entire time you're watching Red Dawn, it's hard not to think how much more quickly the battle (and the movie) would be over if Hemswoth just called up some of his Avengers buddies and asked them to assemble. Or, failing that, there should be a scene where Hutcherson begs Katniss to come and save his ass from getting killed again, just like in the battle arena. (It's worth noting, by the way, that none of the actors make any impression here whatsoever, so it's just as well that this movie didn't come out until well after Hemsworth and Hutcherson hit it big. If Red Dawn was supposed to be their calling card, they may never have landed the roles that made them stars.)
3. The Invasion is Waged with Guns, Rather Than Computers
Ask any military or counterterrorism expert what the most threatening form of modern warfare is and the answer you'll most commonly hear is: cyberterrorism. After all, why waste the manpower on a military invasion when you can undermine a country's security simply by messing with the digital mainframe that keeps its social and financial services running? Red Dawn pays some lip service to this when it offers up a throwaway line about how the North Koreans committed some crippling computer malfeasance before sending in the troops to finish the job, but honestly, they would have been wiser to just keep the troops at home and let a small squad of hackers do all of the dirty work. After all, as shows like Revolution have taught us, take away America's iPods and iPhones and we revert to a Stone Age society that's easy pickings for a hostile takeover.
4. The Action Sequences are Bourne-Lite
Paul Greengrass's two Bourne sequels helped launch the shakycam approach to big set-pieces that dominated action cinema (of the non-superhero variety, at least) in the latter half of the aughts. Recently, however, the pendulum has swung back to a more controlled (some might say, less nauseating) style as seen in the most recent James Bond movie, Skyfall, as well as films like Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol and Dredd. Even the latest Bourne movie, The Bourne Legacy, mostly abandoned its predecessors' jittery, handheld style in favor of a more locked-down aesthetic. Red Dawn, however, is still very much in the Greengrass school of action directing. If you're curious as to why that is, here's a fun fact about Dan Bradley: before making his debut as a feature filmmaker with Red Dawn, he worked as a second-unit director and stunt coordinator. And what two movies did he serve as a stunt coordinator on? Greengrass's Bourne films. Still, while he may have studied Greengrass's style, he definitely did not inherit the director's skill. Although they may appear chaotic, both The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum are very carefully calibrated pieces of directing and editing. The action sequences in Red Dawn, on the other hand, are just visual mush.
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