Review: Red Dawn is what Homefront should have been
Red Dawn may be a remake of a 1980's Cold War cult classic, but for anyone who was burned by a certain recent military shooter, it may be more accurately considered Homefront: The Motion Picture. Conceptually, that's not that crazy. After all, Homefront itself credits its plot to original Red Dawn writer/director John Milius. To create a modern United States invasion story, both Homefront and the Red Dawn remake jump to a lot of the same, somewhat preposterous conclusions.
If only Homefront had half the heart of Red Dawn. I think we'd still be talking about it today. Whereas Homefront was all somber, grisly set pieces and nary a memorable character, Red Dawn focuses on its crew of young freedom fighters at the expense of overall believability. Sure, the fundamental concept of a North Korean invasion of Spokane, Washington is going to be hard for most to swallow, but have fun with it, and the charismatic cast may win you over.
Then again, I can't help but wonder if my acceptance of an absurd plot comes from playing through so many military shooter campaigns. To a certain extent the film even seems aware of what it is. When one of the characters says they miss playing Call of Duty, another responds, "Dude, we're living Call of Duty, and it sucks."
Those who can't step around the surface-level politics of Red Dawn are going to have some difficulty with it, I'll admit. For myself, the bad guys here could have been any country and the strengths of Red Dawn would be the same. The story is set in a small town specifically so it can focus on this small group of teen-aged insurgents.
Again, I go back to wishing Homefront had been like this. Or any military shooter campaign for that matter. I'd take the between mission banter of Thor and Peeta over typical gruff marine #42 any day. Between all the shooting and killing and clichéd morale boosting speeches, Red Dawn also has a bunch of genuine funny and heartfelt character moments. It even takes advantage of its American chain store references better than Homefront did, with a hilarious moment where one of the kids stumbles into a Subway and demands deli meats from one of the shop's "sandwich artists."
Before the end Red Dawn does get downright silly. One plot twist too many and a Modern Warfare-absurd action sequence end an otherwise fun film on a bit of a sour note. That, and some typical "No, you go I'll stay behind!"-style tropes bring it down a bit. Though, for its predictability Red Dawn does manage a few surprise moments. One gun shot in particular made me jump in my seat, which I can't say about any of the thousands of bullets I've shot in the video game counterparts.
If Red Dawn is forgotten as a fun-yet-flawed piece of popcorn cinema, I do hope someone in the video game world learns a lesson. You can have your balls to the wall action sequences and your engaging character drama too. The alternation between explosive insurgency missions and quiet moments between the heroes are a compelling blueprint for a really great game. If Hollywood can squeeze that out on a lazy day, surely the game industry can manage it too, right?