Movie Review: RED DAWN (2012)


When the original RED DAWN was released in 1984 it was panned by critics for an implausible plot and a lack of character development. Nevertheless, it went on to become a cult film of sorts, and a popular VHS rental.   Fast forward to almost 30 years later and the 2012 RED DAWN remake hasn’t fared any better – worse, in fact. But does it really deserve all the hate, or is it more a case of guilt by association?

In all honesty, RED DAWN ’84 was much more a product of it’s time. Cold War tensions were high, and the Soviet Union was the resident boogieman in a lot of action movies from that era. Critics of the day may have considered the plot outlandish – the idea that the Soviets would recruit Cuba and Nicaragua to mount a ground invasion via Mexico – but in fact the plot was based on extensive CIA studies of US defense weaknesses and reflected a legitimate concern at the time.

In a post 9/11 America, the notion of a full scale military ground invasion seems quaint, and certainly not a scenario that keeps people up at night. The remake substitutes North Korea for the Soviet Union, but otherwise presents the same story as before, albeit with a much bigger budget.

Nevertheless, RED DAWN ’12 makes for a solid action flick. In fact, that’s where you’ll notice the biggest difference between the two films. While the rebellious teens from ’84 (Go Wolverines!) faced what seemed like a handful of tanks and a few dozen jeeps, their modern-day counterparts are up against military convoys and entire tank divisions. And even though the original movie set a Guinness record for the most acts of violence in a single film, the new movie is no slouch. There’s about as many explosions, grenades, and gunshots as you could possibly fit into 114 minutes.

As in the original, things happen fast in RED DAWN ’12, and there’s not a lot of room for backstory. The opening introduces us to a pair of brothers – a marine home from service (Chris Hemsworth), and a high school football star (Josh Peck) – who have deep seated conflicts resulting from the untimely death of their mother. We get some cursory glances at their circle of friends, who are mostly a collection of stereotypes, and that’s about it for character development. The next thing you know, paratroopers are dropping from the sky, suburbia is going up in flames, and these kids are jumping in a pick-up truck to head for the hills.

The enemy in this new RED DAWN is much better organized and much better equipped than before, which makes the notion of a handful of high schoolers putting up a meaningful insurgency all the more unlikely.  But this time around, as the enemy occupation progresses, the rebels gain numbers as they recruit more people into the fight. The filmmakers also toss in a dash of ‘Mission Impossible’ with our heroes breaking into enemy headquarters to retrieve a  device that provides a communication hub for for the bad guys.

Chris Hemsworth (The Avengers) kicks ass, as always, and Josh Hutcherson (Hunger Games) is effective as a reluctant suburbanite who evolves from sniveling noob to boy soldier. But Josh Peck is completely miscast and outclassed as Hemsworth’s younger brother. Forget that he looks nothing like Chris Hemsworth – or the chubby kid with a lisp that he used to play on Drake and Josh, (the tweenybopper kids show on Nickelodeon.) Peck just doesn’t have the chops to hang with these more experienced actors. After Drake and Josh was cancelled, he spent the last four years doing cartoon voiceovers, and it shows. His performance is filled with weird facial expressions, and half the time when he’s delivering a line it looks like he’s actively trying to crap his pants. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why they didn’t switch the Joshs, because Hutcherson would have surely done a better job.

Other notables in the ensemble cast include Adrianne Palicki (Friday Night Lights) as Hemsworth’s girlfriend, Brett Cullen as local sheriff and dad to the two brothers, and Connor Cruise (son of Tom Cruise) as one of the Wolverines.

As remakes go, RED DAWN is far from the worst I’ve ever seen, and the critical backlash seems way overblown (12% on Rotten Tomatoes – seriously?!)  Given the source material, this movie was never going to get an Oscar, but I found it solidly entertaining and at least as good as DREDD 3D (the recent Judge Dredd remake) which currently has a 77% on the Tomatometer.  I can’t help but think that the shaky reputation of the ’84 original had a lot to do with with the negative reviews – but even the original managed a 54%.  What gives?!

Rating: 2.75/5 ★★¾☆☆ 


About Dave_P

Dave_P studied fine arts and film history and is a graphic and web designer, and a diehard movie fan. David has been involved with a variety film festivals including the Cinephile Film Festival, the PRIDE Film festival, and the Manhattan Short Film festival, and is currently the director of the Dark Carnival Film Fest in Bloomington, Indiana. (

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