Red Dawn (2012)

I’m trying to think of how to review this in a way that isn’t just pages of laughing.  It’s tough.

It’s probably important to point out that I have not seen the original movie.  After watching this I DID go read a synopsis, and they actually butchered the premise less than I expected!  This kind of ridiculous premise made more sense in the ’80s, I guess.  I could tell just from reading the synopsis that the original was a better movie, ridiculousness and all.

North Korea has decided to invade Spokane because… reasons.  At least THAT part is reasonably realistic – no one knows what the fuck they’re doing or what their motivations are other than “rar we defeat America rar”.  The least realistic part is that they bother to occupy Spokane.

The movie opens by introducing us to Alpha Male who is a soldier fresh back from Iraq and he’s all badass and shit and is good at combat and hardened and whatever other descriptors you would like.  We establish his manliness with a bar scene and then there is a country-wide power outage (the radios still work to relay this news.  I guess it could be a satellite radio though) and he wakes up to soldiers parachuting into his residential street.
First of all: ahahahaha the CGI in this scene.  I don’t usually complain about shit like that but it felt like someone had taken an image of a single parachute, copy/pasted it 800 times, and placed it in a looping animation to make them appear to be moving.  Then had some planes flying in front of them (think about it.).  If I had more ambition I would attempt to recreate it in gif form.Second of all: It sure is important to send thousands of soldiers to secure this residential neighborhood in Spokane.  Good thing they have such deep reserves of trained military men that they can spare for this.  Also they have lots of vehicles and tanks that materialize on the ground in well placed blockades, despite not seeing any air drops of them or anything like that.  God damn they’re organized!  You’re probably just fucked, America.
[UPDATE] I noticed I’ve been getting a lot of search hits for search terms like “why are they using American vehicles in Red Dawn 2012”.  I was not nerdy enough to notice this about the movie, but I can still answer it for you: Because it’s not a very good movie.
Alternatively, they bought the vehicles from America and then never bothered to ship them back home before invading, which also explains why we never see them being air-dropped!  All problems now solved, the plot makes total sense now.  You’re welcome.[/UPDATE]

The residential invasion was slightly explained by them finding and seizing the Mayor, so you can suspend some disbelief and think ‘okay they were targetting the mayor’.  The mayor of… Spokane…

Alpha Male immediately springs into battle readiness mode and herds a group of mewling teenagers off to their cabin outside of town.  He does this by using the most amazing 1980’s truck ever which battering-rams its way through several military vehicles and smashes shit and kills people and gets shot and keeps on ticking, losing a mere headlight in the process.  They just don’t make them like they used to.  They later get this truck stuck in a mud puddle (despite having EIGHT FUCKING PEOPLE to push it) and abandon it and I will never forgive them.

The whole next part of the movie goes something like this:
Alpha Male takes control of the situation and uses his combat knowledge to guide everyone to safety and lead them in a resistance movement.
Subordinate Male rebels against Alpha Male and refuses to do what he says, placing the entire group at risk.
Alpha Male berates Subordinate Male for not listening and takes control again, using his combat knowledge to guide everyone to safety and lead them.
Subordinate Male rebels against Alpha Male and refuses to do what he says, placing the entire group at risk.
(rinse repeat)
(rinse repeat)
Subordinate Male vomits at thought of doing violence.  Alpha Male supports him during this difficult time in his life.
Alpha Male trains Subordinate Males in combat and they bond or something I don’t even know, I think they needed to fill some screen time.
Subordinate Males are now all hardened combat veterans.  Elapsed time: three days or so?  That’s enough time, right?  Sure it is.
Alpha Male gives inspiring speech about war and how when you’re invading somewhere it’s just a place, but this is our home.  Irony goes completely over his head.

Then the resistance part of the movie commences, where the ragtag group of teenagers manage to defeat the evil army (who, I will remind you, were able to invade and set up organized vehicle blockades before anyone managed to get out of bed in this town) with clever weapons like skateboards and holes in the ground.  The leader becomes angrier with them and the rest of the country is inspired by reports about them and apparently bothers to fight back as a result, because they certainly wouldn’t have that idea on their own.

Oh and don’t forget the scene where they find themselves in a Subway, demand they hand over all their bread (to which the employee says “What kind would you like?” and they list off the entire menu) and toppings, and then have a lovely scene where they talk about how good Subway is as they eat it.  I’m sure that endorsement was entirely sincere and no extra money changed hands at all.

See, I read the synopsis for the original and I see them getting a lot of help from outside sources at points.  They meet up with soldiers from other areas who are involved in their own struggles and who compare notes.  The war as a backdrop is fleshed out and it’s clear the country as a whole is struggling, but fighting.  Not in this movie.  They take the reins and inspire an entire country with a couple of pilfered explosives (I would also like to point out they stole these explosives by… walking uninhibited into a garage containing military vehicles and just taking them out of the back seat).  The invasion seems a bit better explained in the original, too.  In this movie it’s like “whoops they invaded and now they are here, let’s get em!”  Late in the movie they get a report on how the attack went down simultaneously in a number of areas, but that’s the extent of it.  No real plans revealed, no motivations, just “they wanted to attack so they dropped paratroopers and non-nuclear tactical strikes”.  Even the parts of the movie which are retained are badly done – like [spoilers – because you care] in the original, under threat of torture, one of the members is forced to swallow a tracking device and rejoin the group.  When he is discovered as having betrayed them, they turn on him.  In the remake?  The tracking device is sneakily injected into one of the members, and when it is discovered he bravely volunteers to abandon the group and lead the bad guys away.  I don’t think a single person actually makes a fucking mistake in this movie.  Even when things go wrong it wasn’t THEIR fault.  Does anyone even have a character flaw in this movie? Except for the prick at the beginning who betrays them and steals all their food and then runs off to join the leadership of the invading army in a bid to get ahead.  At least he had some decent motivations!  But they get revenge pretty early on, making his whole role in the movie last about 10 minutes of screen time with an unsatisfying arc.

And probably the most revealing is the difference between the endings.  In the original, it’s basically implied that the fight continues and the group’s efforts were not in vain, but it’s not exactly a happy fluffy “yay we win” ending.  In this movie… things go wrong so it’s not all sparkles and rainbows, but the end is all set up as a pumped up “we are inspired and KICKING ASS over here FUCK YOU INVADERS” with heavy overtones of success.  The same ironic speech about “when you invade, it’s just a place” is given, and it still goes over everyone’s head.

I just don’t get it.  Why are remakes always so much worse than the originals?  Updating special effects is one thing (and this movie didn’t even really do that well… I’m willing to bet lovingly crafted special effects from the ’80s were better than shitty CGI from today!) Why haven’t we figured out that trying to “improve” an original by altering its basic elements will likely destroy all the parts that made the original good?

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Dungeons

Have you played Dungeon Keeper?  If you haven’t you should probably go straight to gog.com and remedy that.  But if you have, you are almost undoubtedly one of the millions of people waiting for a decent remake that doesn’t crash constantly on modern systems.

As an aside, I don’t know what it is about classic remakes… why do they always have to fuck with the winning formula of a great game when they remake it?  The only thing wrong with the original X-Com (aside from the buggy difficulty level which ended up becoming canon…) was that it was 8000 years old and summarily the interface was ass.  How many years did it take us to get a decent X-Com remake where they didn’t fuck with the formula and make it shitty?  Too many.  But anyway, Dungeons was announced and it has a pretty clear Dungeon Keeper influence, so everyone got excited.  And then it came out and it got really shitty reviews, so I didn’t buy it.

Then came a Steam sale where both the original Dungeons and its sequel/expansion Dark Lord were on sale for cheap, and I said to myself “Well it probably got bad reviews because it’s not Dungeon Keeper, but it looks interesting so it might still be good despite that!” and bought it.

Two things:

1. It is not Dungeon Keeper.

2. There is a reason beyond that for getting bad reviews :(

It’s still fairly unique but the flaws are pretty glaring, and it’s just bad design all around.

Even though they are substantially different the influence from DK is pretty obvious, and in an attempt to point out why the game is flawed I’m going to have to keep comparing the two.

The games are similar in that you are a dark lord who is running a dungeon, primarily through sending imps to dig out rooms and construct various doodads that do various stuff.  In DK, you do this as an omnipotent being who points and clicks and lets his/her dudes do all the dirty work.  In Dungeons, your lord is a physical being within the dungeon.

The inclusion of an actual player character as the lord is mistake number one.  In DK, you rely on your minions to carry out your wishes.  In Dungeons, you end up doing most of that shit yourself.  And even worse, you have to walk your happy ass over there to do it.  What is the point of being the overlord of a dungeon if you have to work??!?!

But it’s worse than that, actually.  In DK, the goal of the game was actually similar to tower defense.  You build rooms, adventurers come to loot and plunder and destroy, and you protect your dungeon heart by building and unlocking and levelling various minions in an arms race.  You build your dungeon in a certain way and certain creatures want to live in it and defend it for you.  The more adventurers you defend against, the more powerful your dungeon got, and the more powerful your dungeon got, the more interested the not-shitty adventurers became in trying to destroy it.  Eventually it is revealed just how bad your micromanagement skills are, and the adventurers destroy the dungeon heart.  Okay fine, so I sucked at Dungeon Keeper but I still had fun playing it.

In Dungeons, you ALMOST have the same goal.  You tell imps to dig out rooms and then place whatsits within those rooms, and you have a dungeon heart which you must defend.  The difference is that instead of trying to attract new kinds of monsters to come and live there, you are trying to attract new kinds of adventurers to come and explore.  Some adventurers want to loot gold, so you place gold piles.  Some want to find musty old books, so you build a library.  Some want to disarm traps and feel badass.  Some want to fight stuff, so you place monsters.  Some want to fight stuff, but they’ve got a fancy new sword and they want to get really big critical hits, so you need monsters who are squishy.  Some want to try their new armor, so you need monsters that hit really hard.  The ultimate goal is to satisfy the adventurers, and then just as they are pleased with themselves and turn to leave, you bash them over the head, haul them to a cage and suck out their soul so you can use the soul power to buy more doodads for your dungeon.

This is far worse than DK for a number of reasons.

One: It’s counter-intuitive.  You can’t place super powerful monsters near the adventurer spawns because A – they might not be the kind of monster that will satisfy the adventurer, and B – if the monster kills them before they’re ready to leave, you get nothing.  The adventurer has to be totally satisfied before they can be harvested.

Two: Because you can’t rely on your monsters to do it for you with a fine enough level of control, pretty much each and every harvest has to be done manually by your dungeon lord avatar.  You have to run your ass all the way over there and beat up the adventurer before they get back out.  Oh and while you’re running over there, you’ll probably run past eight other adventurers who all go “Look!  A dungeon lord!” and drop everything they’re doing to come attack you, which means they were likely not completely satisfied and full of soul energy, which means if you attack them back you are wasting a bunch of time and energy.  So you can run away and hope they lose interest and go back to becoming happy and full of harvestable energy, or you can kill them like the evil dungeon lord you are and just completely waste them.  It’s not good.  It’s not well designed, and it just feels cludgy and badly thought out.

And even if you DO get everything clicking smoothly, that’s about it.  You running from place to place harvesting adventurers is pretty much the whole game.  At least in DK you could look forward to your minions levelling up or try to build more desirable rooms.  The gameplay in Dungeons just feels shallow and repetitive.

And while it is sort of original, all of its good parts are borrowed from DK, and all of the originality is what makes it bad.  So I’m afraid I can’t even really recommend it for the novelty factor.  Unfortunate.