The original "Red Dawn" appeared in 1984, and like many works of popular art provides a useful glimpse of the temper of its time. During the Reagan administration's orchestration of a systematic slaughter of leftists, liberals, and other supporters of land reform and democracy all over Central America, the movie posited an invasion of the United States from Nicaragua; the president even warned that the hordes from the South could threaten Brownsville, Texas. Those who revere Ronald Reagan as a man who walked on water, then changed it to wine, conveniently forget the Cold War paranoia he cultivated and the butchery he condoned.
Although possibly slightly less hysterically rightist than its predecessor, the remake traffics in the same sort of fearmongering, basing its plot on an invasion by one of the "Axis of Evil" countries invoked by George W. Bush as a way of retaining his hold on the office he stole. Before the story itself begins, the movie shows a long, crowded montage of television news reports of the contemporary events that create the context for its action. News stories of economic collapse, international financial crises, electronic terrorism, etc. provide a modicum of verisimilitude to a generally incredible fiction.
No less preposterous than the first film, this "Red Dawn" shows a massive airborne attack by North Korean forces on the American Northwest, assisted by the Russians, who take the East Coast. Late in the picture some awkward exposition reveals that some advanced cyber-attack destroyed the U. S. power grid, neutralizing all communications and preventing counterattack, supposed to explain the impotence of the largest and best-equipped military force in the world in the face of such an invasion.
Once again, a bunch of high-school students calling themselves the Wolverines after their football team, this time in Spokane, Washington, escape into the wilderness and form a guerilla force to resist the occupying forces. Led by Jed Eckert (Chris Hemsworth), a Marine home on leave, and his younger brother Matt (Josh Peck), the gang embarks on a campaign to fight the invaders, ambushing Korean troops, assassinating officers, stealing weapons and vehicles, planting bombs, and freeing their friends and neighbors from concentration camps. As Jed tells them, in Iraq he and his comrades were the good guys; now the Wolverines are the bad guys practicing a war of stealth and terror.
Once the Wolverines learn some essential lessons in matters like marksmanship, bomb making, and hand-to-hand combat from Jed, most of the rest of the movie, unsurprisingly, consists of a series of fierce gun battles, automobile chases, and the usual explosions. Some of their methods, like car bombs, improvised explosive devices, setting one explosion to be followed by another, and so on, come right from the American experience in the Middle East. Though outmanned and outgunned, the Wolverines prove themselves able students of contemporary history, successfully resisting the superior forces of a highly trained military.
"Red Dawn" combines its barely believable premise of cyber-attacks on the United States with an even much less believable notion of an invasion and occupation of the country; of course, if like the recent, defeated candidate for president, one believes the Russians represent the major geopolitical threat to America, then it all makes sense after all. The first movie suggested a handy right-wing fantasy, complete with endorsements of the Second Amendment right out of NRA pamphlets; this one descends into a familiar adolescent sentimentality, with sweet teenage relationships occasionally clogging up the violent action, notably one of those storybook romances between Matt Eckert, the high-school quarterback, and a pretty cheerleader (Isabel Lucas).
The picture finally provides a kind of initiatory experience for Matt, who learns some painful lessons of suffering and loss, but also develops into manhood. He grows from high-school kid, resentful younger brother of a tough Marine, to a full-fledged leader of fighters, spouting the plangent platitudes of patriotism we've all heard so often for so long. Anyone who actually believes in the imminent risk of an invasion by the combined forces of Russia and North Korea should start building a bunker and accumulating weapons, ammunition, and provisions for the future — there's still a lot of land in Idaho.