Since Red Dawn starting shooting back in 2009, Chris Hemsworth has established himself as a pretty big star, primarily by playing Thor in two films, but also by making his character in The Cabin in the Woods likable. Later this year he’ll be starring in his third Thor film and in Ron Howard’s Rush, a biographical film about the Formula One driver James Hunt.
Before that we have Red Dawn, Dan Bradley’s remake of the 1984 film of the same name, which was released last year in the US to fairly uninspiring critical and financial results. When Hemsworth looks back over his recent career, I imagine he will regret playing the lead in Red Dawn, a film that makes Thor look like a bona fide masterpiece.
The patent ludicrousness of Thor worked (most of the time) because director Kenneth Branagh understood that a film has to treat its own internal world with logic and a degree of respect, even when tongue is placed firmly in cheek. Remarkably, Dan Bradley has managed to direct a film set in the current day, in the real world, with no rainbow bridges, ice giants or magical hammers, that feels not only nonsensical, but less believable than the fantasy world of Thor.
The basic premise is that the US is invaded by North Korea. Why? It doesn’t matter. Let’s not overcomplicate things by concerning ourselves with issues of plot, because the film certainly doesn’t. It’s well documented that the Red Dawn ‘bad guys’ were originally plotted to be Chinese, but that this was changed last-minute so the film would play to the ever-growing Chinese market. That decision, in a way, sums up everything you need to know about Red Dawn, a film with a central plot point so utterly disposable that it has literally been rewritten to make more money.
It goes without saying, then, that the basic setup for the film is a complete shambles. The villains could be anybody; they could be after anything. There is a brief scene which seems like it might at least attempt to establish some sort of credible motivation for anything that’s happening, but any suggestion of an explanation is drowned out in a hail of gunfire.
Most of the film takes place in and around Spokane, Washington, where Chris Hemsworth’s character Jed, on leave from the army, is back at home with his father and younger brother (Josh Peck). After the invasion, the two brothers are thrown together with the adolescent members of a local American football team, ‘the Wolverines’, whom Jed then reluctantly schools in the arts of killing and sabotage.
The mid-section of the film is structured around a series of guerrilla attacks carried out by the Wolverines on occupied targets. The physical layout of the area we’re in doesn’t seem to matter – at times our young heroes simply teleport, through the magic of terrible scripting and lazy editing, to whatever areas they need to be in. At one point one of the characters is supposed to have gone AWOL from the group, only for the situation to be resolved in minutes, and despite his disappearance not having been flagged up in the script. There also appears to be no logic or consistency to the Koreans’ presence in the US – why are some of the civilians rounded up into camps, for example, while the rest just stand around in the streets, or continue their daily lives?
So we have a film which not only doesn’t care about its own plot, but which fails to establish a convincing sense of believability, tension or drama. Hemsworth is not terrible in the lead role, but no actor could have done anything to lift this insipid script into more engaging territory. There is one scene, in which the kids rob a Subway store for supplies, which is probably the most cynical display of product placement I’ve seen since Daniel Craig announced the make of his watch in Casino Royale, and there’s even space for a risibly jingoistic speech about how American forces were the “good guys” in Iraq. It would be funny if it wasn’t so catastrophically misjudged.
Red Dawn is an action film in which even the action itself is repetitive, uninspired and dull; in which the basic scenario is so pointless that it beggars belief; in which the characters are so thinly drawn that they barely register as living, breathing humans; in which the plotting is so laughably slapdash that all sense of continuity is lost. In the wake of the Oscars, we have an early contender for worst film of the year.