The remake of Red Dawn also reflects its times, in its own way. It is a perfect action movie for the age of Obama. Pointless, loud, confusing, and filled with politically correct pseudo-patriotism, it’s a disposable trinket that bored drunks will be picking up from the Redbox outside the 7-11 in a few months. Chris Hemsworth of Thorfame plays Jed Eckert, but he’s probably thanking the Aesir that this film was delayed until after his career was secured.
While the characters have the same names, the overall backgrounds have dramatically changed. Jed Eckert is not the former high school quarterback from small town USA, but a tattooed United States Marine. In fact, he’s not just a Marine, but a combat veteran of the Iraq War who (it’s implied) has both killed and seen comrades die. He’s even still on active duty, simply stopping home while on leave. Rather than reluctantly taking up arms or even doing his patriotic duty, it could be argued that neo-Jed is simply doing his job. Instead of reacting with stunned disbelief or fear when paratroopers come sailing into the town, Jed reacts with instincts honed by training and combat.
Josh Peck’s Matt Eckert is no longer his brother’s faithful second, but a brooding wannabe rebel who is filled with adolescent longing for his girlfriend Erica (Isabel Lucas). He resents his brother for joining the Marine Corps and going off to war rather than staying at home to help the family after their mother died. This actually creates a sense of tension between the two brothers that the original mostly lacked.
The first Red Dawn set the tone with a history professor ruminating on the brutality of Genghis Khan to a quiet classroom. The remake gives us a high school football game out of Varsity Blues. Instead of a mediation on war, identity, and death, we’re going to root for the home team. Go Wolverines!
While the opening invasion scene is superior technically to the original, it has been almost 30 years, and it’s supposed to be. Still, there’s something lost – instead of a sense of ominous dread followed by sudden horror, here we have explosions and silly car chases right off the bat. Jed rescues a number of people from the town (most of whom are rather disposable). After encountering his father (here, the sheriff) he takes them to his family’s second home in the woods while his father does the best he can back in the town. As Jed drives away, we see the townspeople running helplessly to the local authority figure for help. Once they arrive to safety, Jed quickly establishes himself as the alpha of the group after putting down an absurd challenge from an effeminate kid named “Pete,” as if anyone is going to argue with the older Marine in a war situation and who owns the house besides. Among those rescued is the new version of Daryl Jenkins (played by Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s adopted nonwhite son Connor). In the age of Obama, the mayor is black.
Soon enough, Pete abandons the group and steals food and supplies. He’s apparently captured and leads enemy forces to the cabin. The group hides in the woods as an enemy solider puts a gun to the head of the mayor, who tells the group to surrender through a megaphone. Then Jed and Matt’s father takes the megaphone and essentially orders them to fight and slaughter the invaders, screaming “kill this piece of shit.” He’s predictably shot and killed. Jed resolves to follow his father’s command, and begins training the group into a force that can take the fight to the enemy. The battle begins, and the enemy doesn’t know what hit them.
While the overall pattern is true to the beginning of the film, we already see a drastic departure that changes the whole ideological thrust of the movie. Jed isn’t a reluctant guerrilla trained in the ways of the woods – he’s a professional soldier (no offense to any Marines objecting to being called “soldiers”). Rather than the spirited amateurs of the original (who ask questions like, “What’s a flank?”), Jed creates a little platoon of mini-Marines by running the group through a quick version of Infantry School. Papa Eckert isn’t a paranoid survivalist trapped in a concentration camp – he’s a lawman, also trying to do his job. This isn’t a folk uprising against occupiers – government employees are the heroes. We’re not in rural Colorado – we’re in Spokane, Washington. No sons of the soil here – only kids who have fired guns on their Xbox. As one Wolverine puts it, “Dude, we’re living Call of Duty – and it sucks!”
And who are they fighting? At this point, most people know that the film was originally supposed to feature a Chinese invasion of the United States, perhaps with Russian help. Incredibly, even after the movie was finished, someone (not the Chinese) decided that the Chinese would be offended by this film and changed it so that the enemy is North Korea. Of course, as even this movie has to acknowledge the absurdity of North Korea invading the United States (or invading South Korea for that matter, or giving its people 2,000 calories-a-day, for that matter), the Communists have help. As we all know, it’s going to be an enemy that no one cares about offending. South Africa has long since vanished so let’s all say it together: the hand behind the curtain belongs to “Russian Ultra-Nationalists.” Rather than even the clumsy humanizing of the first film, the North Koreans and Russians are completely faceless and without personality. They exist to be mowed down.
The sad part is that somewhere in this mess is a film that could have been timely. The marketing for the film used faux propaganda posters from the Chinese occupation with messages like “Repairing Your Economy” and “Defeating Your Enemy” with a hand smashing the Capitol. In a time of economic stagnation, spiritual malaise, and popular anger against the government, the film could have addressed questions of national decline and the fraying bonds between people and government. The occupiers use anti-Wall Street rhetoric to try to win support and there’s a huge opening for something to be said about how the nation is distinct from the banks and the corporations. All of this is simply dropped on the ground, background for the video game we are watching.
The film does suggest a link between the invading North Koreans and the occupying American legions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Jed, a veteran of those occupations, notes that when he was in Iraq, they tried to bring order and essential services to the people. Here, they will be the “bad guys” and create “chaos.” The North Koreans hold a rally and claim they can restore essential services only after the people help them to stop the violence. The Wolverines bomb it. The character Pete from the beginning goes so far as to become a uniformed collaborator and is killed for it. Jed accepts it, commenting that collaborators were inevitable. Still, it seems like the movie held back its punch, never quite drawing the parallel. While Jed comments that to the North Koreans, Spokane is “just a place,” there’s not a sense of the righteous rage that drove the original Wolverines. After all, this seems like a state vs. state conflict, and we’re just pulling for the home team.
Conflict within the group erupts when Matt jeopardizes a mission in order to save his girlfriend from a North Korean prison. As a result, one of the team’s minority members are killed. Thus, the minorities serve to awaken the conflict between the white protagonists. Here, it is the conflict between love and duty. Of course, Matt eventually chooses duty and subordination to Jed – easy enough, as his girlfriend is now rescued. Incredibly, everyone simply moves on from this.
The thin explanation the film offers as to how North Korea invaded the United States is an EMP super-weapon that knocked out the entire American military. The North Koreans are able to maintain their own communications because of a separate system seemingly contained within a super-laptop. Thus, like so many other military movies from Battle: Los Angeles to Independence Day to Starship Troopers, our heroes must seize part of the super-advanced enemy technology and enable a larger counter-offensive. It’s not a guerrilla campaign – it’s an action movie cliché. To complete the sense of “seen it before,” Hollywood’s favorite military heroes show up out of the blue – the United States Marine Corps.
The Wolverines in the original never lost sight of their place in the larger struggle – shattered American tanks, whirling dogfights, and the occasional American helicopter showed the U.S. Military was still out there and fighting hard. Here, there’s apparently nothing for most of the movie until the usual pattern of modern military movies manifests. A three person team of Marines (which already doesn’t make sense, as the USMC is not noted for its small elite detachments) arrives to link up with the Wolverines. Instead of a grizzled pilot finding himself unexpectedly with kiddie soldiers, we have Jed and the re-imagined Sgt. Major Andrew Tanner (Watchmen’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan) – both Marines – working together as naturally as they were at Camp Lejeune.
Not surprisingly, the United States Marine Corps does what it does best – conquer Hollywood, massively promote its public image, and turn a movie into a recruitment commercial for at least 20 minutes. Thus, the audience is treated to USMC slang like “mo-tard” and hoary chestnuts like the “deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle.” If the Army and the Navy ever gaze on movie screens, they’ll find all the scenes are stolen by United States Marines.
Jed is relatively restrained in his Marineness and for some reason doesn’t care to ask about his unit and, presumably, all of his friends. He does favor us with the slogan, “Marines don’t die, they just go to hell to regroup!” An apparent grunt at the back of the theater actually yelled “Oo-rah!” as the film slowly transformed into a farce. As they move to claim the super-laptop, Wolverines and jarheads alike sure-footedly clear a building like professional soldiers, rather than using the rag-tag tactics of Swayze’s guerillas. Like one of the neo-Wolverines mentioned earlier in the film, we’re watching people live out “Call of Duty,” while the previous film was more like the Battle of Algiers. Getting into the spirit as faceless enemies were slain, audience members cried “Amurrica!” triumphantly and giggled. Needless to say, the laptop is claimed, some people we don’t really care about are killed, Jed and Matt’s father is avenged, and the Devil Dogs fly home with the super-laptop in presumably the only helicopter the US military has left.
Amazingly, the Wolverines stay behind – and have a party, complete with clinking beers and the promise of sex for Matt and Jed with the two pretty white females. These are the worst guerillas anyone has ever seen. Unexpectedly, the movie throws a curve, as Jed is suddenly shot through the head and killed, and Matt brusquely takes charge, leading the remainder of the group to safety. It’s revealed that our “Daryl” once again has led enemy forces to the group, but this time it is only because he was unknowingly injected with a tracker by a Russian soldier. Rather than a traitor, he’s a victim of tragedy, as the group leaves him behind for certain death because he obviously can’t be brought along anymore. Even though his father the mayor is a collaborator, diversity Daryl is a hero.
In the end, we find a newly hardened Matt still behind enemy lines with the remnants of his group, including both pretty white girls (who, needless to say, survive without a scratch). Echoing his brother from earlier in the film, he is training whole new teams of guerillas. The film abruptly ends with the new partisan army storming one of the North Korean prison camps, waving the American flag. The audience looked confused, as if the movie had suddenly ended mid way. “What the hell just happened?” said one, in an apt five word review.
The film’s purpose, other than a quick buck, is to rework the Red Dawn mythos so it fits into modern America. Thus, the heroes are no longer plucky guerillas but Marines, cops, and those trained by them. They’re not fighting out of rage – they are fighting because they were told to. White guerillas emerging out of the woods are scary. Multiracial kids living out Call of Duty and pounding high fructose corn syrup are fun and sexy. There is no interpretation where this film can be said to be “anti-state” or counter-cultural.
The North Korean occupation is, absurdly, far more humane than the Soviet one of the original, where huge groups of Americans were wiped out in retaliation. Here, faceless and motiveless North Koreans tromp around, but the reason for their invasion, the ideology behind it, and the horror of foreign occupation are all left in the background. Even the concentration camp seems less intimidating than that of the first film. This actually fits the ideology of modern America. As “American” can no longer be defined ethnically or even culturally, so must the enemy be rendered faceless and evil, but not so evil as to be offensive unless the bad guys are racists. All we have left are zombies, Nazis, aliens, white South Africans, some combination thereof, and, of course, North Koreans and Russian “ultra-nationalists” who are probably racist.
The film is also properly diversified up. Hispanics and Negroes populate the Wolverines and a black woman heroically aids the group from inside the city. The film’s “Toni” pines after Jed and is supposed to be a “tough girl” but it’s unclear why. Erica looks pretty and exists to be saved by Matt. Both magically transform into brilliant warriors, but lack the vulnerability of the two female Wolverines in the original, who suffered rape and sexual abuse at the hands of the Soviets. Instead of striking back out of hatred and revenge, our grrrl power neo-Wolverines are doing it to prove they are just as tough and cool as the men.
The non-white Wolverines are treated rather contemptuously: set pieces who exist to be killed and fuel the motivations of the white characters. None of them even show up on the movie poster. An interesting possibility is introduced when the Marines show up and one is Asian. He obviously knows Korean, as he uses his linguistic skills to create chaos over the enemy radio lines. However, there’s no question of divided loyalties. I expected a scene where a white American (probably with a Southern accent) would yell about all Asian-Americans being traitors, but none was forthcoming.
The only uniformed collaborator we get to know is blonde-haired Pete (who is killed in satisfying fashion), and the black mayor is obviously collaborating reluctantly. If the Chinese had stayed the enemy the question of ethnic loyalties could have been introduced, but it doesn’t exactly work that way with the nonexistent North Korean diaspora. In this film’s world, the only colors that matter are red, white, and blue. Needless to say, the contemporary American conservative movement loves the movie. The Beltway Right fantasy of various minorities joining together proudly under the Stars and Stripes (and the leadership of whites) exists on screen here, but nowhere in the real world.
What, after all, is this America of government-sponsored family breakups, junk culture, and ethnic chaos that the neo-Wolverines are fighting to defend? At one point in the film, the Wolverines crash into a building to hide from North Koreans in hot pursuit. They turn to find they are in a crowded Subway restaurant with people staring at them. Thinking quickly, one partisan leaps to the counter and roars “Sandwich artist! Fill this shit with bread!” while another quickly dumps soda into a bucket. They run back to the base with the processed food and the Wolverines feast.
The audience roared with laughter (and it was funny), but there is a troubling message. Consumerism, corporatism, and product placement, are, after all, what America is, although given the alternative of North Korea, McWorld seems like paradise. A Big Mac may taste like heaven after weeks of MRE’s, but when that’s the defining core of your society, you have a problem. In a scene where the Wolverines are talk about what they miss most, it’s all material possessions – except for Matt, who misses his girlfriend.
It’s worth noting that although Milius is not necessarily opposed to hating on North Korea (he wrote the story for the video game Homefront), he condemned the remake as unnecessary and went so far he would like to see a Red Dawn “about Mexico.” While using the same character names and general pattern, the remake systematically and deliberately cheapens the original film’s thematic power. If anything, Homefront has less of a simplistic video game plot than Red Dawn 2012. Significantly, the scene where Robert drinks the deer blood has been turned into a joke rather than a solemn rite of initiation. We’re not watching boys turn into men or young adults accepting the responsibility of warriors. We’re watching multiracial pinups act out the contemporary American governing ideology – multiracial diversity united under a corporate culture waving the American flag.
Of course, it didn’t do any good. Liberal reporters shrieked that the movie was propaganda for the “Tea Party.” Other progressives sneered that it had inspired racism – not against Russians of course, who should all be killed, but against Asians. Regardless of how diversified, statist, and bland the film was designed to be, the Left can never approve of Americans celebrating martial pride or even PC patriotism. The Stars and Stripes, the Corps, and even the idea of fighting for your country are all too associated with fascist whites and remnants of Tradition in the eyes of the Left.
Nonetheless, it won’t stop. The core symbols of the American past are slowly being redefined to fit the post-American present. The vessels stay the same, but the content is changed. Thus the military is redefined as egalitarian, in the American pantheon Thomas Jefferson is replaced by Martin Luther King, and the consensus around historical figures and periods like Abraham Lincoln and Reconstruction is reinterpreted.
Part of this process involves remaking successful pop culture franchises from the past, from Conan the Barbarian to The Karate Kid. While the remakes usually bomb, they accomplish the purpose of stripping anti-egalitarian themes from the past and ensuring the face of pop culture is never white. Thus, the original Red Dawn, a genuinely subversive movie, is transformed into a pro-government multicultural celebration of the new America. Leftists still think it’s too much, conservatives rush to support it, and the process continues. In the real world we live in, these new multicultural soldiers aren’t guerillas – they’re the occupiers, the paid servants of the cultural elite. The message of resistance lies in the original Red Dawn, the story of a folk uprising and a revolution from the periphery which uses Traditionalism couched within popular American symbols.
Our real Wolverines have to overthrow our parasitic rulers for many reasons, but perhaps the most important is simply – “because we live here.” After all, “We’re all going to die – die standing up!”