Red Dawn (2012)
The original Red Dawn was an artifact of the Cold War. High school and twenty-somethings battle an invading army in guerrilla style attacks. In the 1984 rendition the Soviet Union, with the aid of their Cuban allies, invades the USA. Here in the 2012 version substitute the Russians with the aid of their North Korean allies… but the premise is essentially the same.
Where the original, for all its many flaws, did at least attempt to adhere to some measure of logic especially in the early acts of the film… the 2012 edition compresses time incredibly. Seemingly overnight the invaders have checkpoints, re-education camps, and a stranglehold of control on the area…the original did at least stretch this aspect of the story to several weeks for fear of straining credulity.
Additionally there is little development of the enemy all of whom remain entirely cardboard villains. Main characters are introduced to the audience, distinguished little from their peers, and later dispatched with little show of emotion from those that remain. Where is the shock and horror of war? Where are the signs of stress and trauma?
In a scene dripping with irony, star Chris Hemsworth, playing US Marine Jed Eckert, explains to the group:
“I’m going to fight. Now this is easier for me ’cause I’m used to it. The rest of you are going to have a tougher choice. Now look I don’t want to sell it to you… it’s too ugly for that. And it’s ugly and it’s hard. But when you are fighting in your own backyard… and you’re fighting for your family… it all hurts a little less and makes a little more sense. And for them…this is just some place. But for us… this is our home.”
This is while he is standing in the forest of Washington state having just returned from a tour in Iraq. Think about that for a moment. Also the entire film cleans up war, makes it more like a video game. The damage of war is not just from the wounded and dead, but the emotional and psychological scars.
Red Dawn, in either iteration, is the modern equivalent of Robin Hood. The hero and his motley band of outlaws fight for freedom from tyranny under the hard rule of a brutal but not entirely capable local leader who is a representative of the invaders. The hero and his pals aim not simply to survive in the forest nor to destroy the local enemy but to bring down the entire framework of tyrannical rule imposed on them.
There are several homages to other films. “The chair is against the wall,” and “John has a long mustache,” are both a references to the BBC broadcasts in code to the various Maquis resistance fighters in France during WWII. Each seemingly random phrase would be a code to indicate a weapons drop, an attack or some danger. The “chair” line also cropped up in the original Red Dawn. The “mustache” line is an homage to The Longest Day where it served as a signal to a group that the D-Day invasion was imminent, and they should execute their mission(which seemingly was to take out telegraph/telephone lines). Late in the film there is a reference to Zulu, a 1964 film starring Stanley Baker and a very young Michael Caine, as the “Wolverines” escape from a firefight with the North Korean soldiers by cutting holes in the walls of a building.
In the end though, Red Dawn is still a jingoistic, flag-waving, feature length advertisement for the NRA and 2nd amendment rights. And it doesn’t even do that especially well…