As a paranoiac snapshot of how the world would look through the warped glass of Ronald Reagan’s blood-red Republican snowglobe, John ‘Conan The Barbarian‘ Milius’s eerily sincere apology for mountaintop survivalist communities and a Second Amendment weapons caches, Red Dawn, becomes more culturally significant with every passing decade.
As a visual document from the era of duck-and-cover classroom drills, it’s difficult to fathom anyone returning to this 1984 cult classic with anything other than an extreme agenda – whether to explore and perhaps satirise heightened xenophobia and patriotic nationalism in this handwringing era of euphemistic regime changes, or glorify it in a firework display of weeping eagles and bombastic Fox News idents.
Turning its attentions from the Russian-backed Cubans of the original to the far more topical North Koreans (with Russians thrown in, too, in screaming defiance of actual geopolitics), 2012’s Red Dawn remake (which was entombed in MGM’s Cold War bunker in 2010 when the studio ran into money woes) certainly doesn’t do the former, and can only really be accused of the latter in much the same way as just about any big dumb action movie – look to the sneering post-Soviet crypto-Russians of moronic meme-enabler The Expendables 2, for example.
Accompanying this base tinfoil hat depiction of a near-future America in the grip of communist occupation – the opening montage setting the scene filled with so many poorly rendered CG tanks and maps that it looks like the pre-amble for Command & Conquer: Red Alert – Red Dawn follows a gang of teenagers forced to defend democracy and apple pie armed only with a Karate Kid training montage and the slurred leadership of Thor‘s Chris Hemsworth, is a stubborn lack of self-awareness or introspection.
In these morally ambiguous times of Afghan and Iraqi insurgencies, and the similar tactics employed by Western-backed oppositions in Libya and Syria, Red Dawn ’13 ploughs into moral relativism like a jolly icebreaker (the scene in which our heroes blow up a check point screams for some sort of comment), managing to be even more cheerily gung-ho and mythologised than Red Dawn ’84. The earlier film at least made a token debate surrounding the value of human life, and the ethical compromises of waging a guerilla war that puts your friends and family at risk.
Instead, we get a bevvy of romantic subplots, a weirdly inappropriate vibe of teen movie hijinx and misfit band bonding (“Dude, we’re living Call Of Duty, and it sucks,” opines Josh Hutcherson’s generidude Robert), a sort of well scrubbed sterility in contrast with the rugged life-on-the-edge tone of the original, and leaden speeches about fighting for freedom accompanied by rousing music. All of which manages to parachute the tone somewhere in the artless no-mans-land between The Goonies and a Sixties Yugoslav Partisan epic.
Moments of rosy-cheeked propagandising aside, Red Dawn isn’t a failure as an action movie, with all the requisite daring raids, car chases, and explosions, all deftly handled by first time feature film director Dan Bradley, whose grasp of people jumping through plate glass was honed as a unit director on The Bourne Supremacy/Ultimatum/Legacy, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Quantum Of Solace. Nor is the drama entirely awful, thanks to capably teary eyed turns from The Hunger Games‘ Hutcherson – honing his soon to be profitable talent for looking sad in the woods – and Mean Creek‘s sullen and inscrutable Josh Peck.
Hemsworth is convincing as the group’s leader. An evolution of his jock from MGM’s similarly impounded Cabin In The Woods, the quiet authority and presence Hemsworth would later bring to Thor is already making itself known. Even his regular series of ghastly patriotic pep talks are fairly rousing, which isn’t bad going for an Australian, and British audiences will feel briefly moved to either fire their concealed carrys into the ceiling while bellowing “WOLVERINES!” or do a star-spangled vomit.
Ideologically and culturally, Bradley’s Red Dawn is opaque to the point of frustration – is this gloriously shallow, or is it insidiously right wing, or does it even matter? – but cinematically everything is as straightforward as its characters motivations; things need to be blown up, and they get blown up fairly well. Now let’s never speak of this again.