Red Dawn is one of those remakes that just seems ill-advised. The original wasn’t great to begin with, the appeal mostly stemming from the specificity of its outlook. It was a film that fed into the fears of the time, methodically detailing the possibility of a Soviet occupation and the ensuing resistance. This version doesn’t have the benefit of that context, and largely just sticks to playing out generic action movie scenarios. And it doesn’t even have the sense to try and make things fun. Red Dawn was a poor choice even at conception. Everything that follows only makes things worse.
The movie begins by introducing brothers Jed and Matt Eckert (Chris Hemsworth and Josh Peck). Jed is a marine who has just returned to his hometown of Spokane. Matt is the hotshot quarterback of the local high school team, the Wolverines. When North Korea suddenly attacks the United States and takes control of their town, the brothers find themselves having to lead a ragtag group of young people to repel the invaders and take back their home. But the brothers still have issues between them, and that puts everyone in danger.
The film is very vague about the nature of the conflict. This is primarily out of necessity: it is extremely difficult to think of a scenario where it makes sense for North Korea to invade and occupy the United States. It's even harder to buy into a scenario where they are successful. Putting that aside, the film still feels really thin, the plot relying too much on the enemy being incompetent. There are too many points where the North Koreans seem to simply give up, the movie contriving all sorts of ways for the young heroes to stay safe, even when it stretches all credulity.
The movie relies heavily on choppy editing and shaky camerawork to hide the deficiencies of its action sequences. The film only settles down long enough to play out a painfully trite story between the brothers. Their conflict is painted broadly, with plenty of bad dialogue to make it all feel even more unnecessary. The other characters don't get much time to develop, and they remain mostly indistinct by the end of the movie.
The emotional core of the film is left to Chris Hemsworth and Josh Peck, and it didn't turn out very well. Peck lets his mouth hang open in the film’s most dramatic scenes, which really does cut into the gravity of the situation. Chris Hemsworth comes off as wooden and uninterested. A promising cast of young actors gets very little to do. Josh Hutcherson and Adrienne Palicki have proven to be reliable assets in previous outings, but they are largely squandered here.
The biggest flaw of Red Dawn is its lack of imagination. It doesn’t put in the effort to build this particular reality, to inject details that would make the world interesting or distinct. This is essentially what differentiates it from the original movie. While the original doesn’t really hold up as a piece of filmmaking, it is still the far more intriguing film, fully realizing a mad paranoid fantasy springing from the mind of someone who actually believed that the threat of invasion was real and imminent. At best, this version of Red Dawn feels awfully generic.