Spokane, Washington, is the target of an invasion of parachute troops from North Korea in this remake of the 1984 John Milius-directed film Red Dawn. A rag-tag team of teenage guerrillas escapes to the woods and trains to become a u201Ctiny flea that can drive a big dog crazy,u201D as proposed by the team's leader, Jed Eckert (Chris Hemsworth).
The main theme is the decision that each member of the team must make on his or her own regarding the fight: whether or not to get involved and fight for home, family, and country. A sub-theme is the reconciliation of Jed with his younger brother Matt (Josh Peck) who finally resolve their differences under the pressure of increasing resistance by the enemy.
Underlying it all is resistance to tyranny.
Many of the action sequences are lifted from the original film including the ambush scene where one of the team members, Toni (Adrianne Palicki), baits some soldiers into chasing her around the corner of a building. They are met and gunned down by other team members who then ransack the bodies for their weapons and ammunition, giving them the additional firepower they desperately need to become the irritating flea on the back of the North Korean troops.
There is frequent reference to why such resistance, at the potential cost of their lives, is needed from the members. As Jed explained:
When you're fighting in your own backyard, when you're fighting for your family, it all hurts a little and makes a little more sense. That's our biggest advantage. For them, this is just a place. For us, this is our home.
As the film develops, the resistance by the Wolverines encourages those in town not already rotting in a POW camp to join them.
Along the way, there were moments of clarity, and moments of incongruity. For instance, when Jed saw a TV reporter reading his scripted version of what was happening, he recognized it for what it was – blatant propaganda as the news channels had been taken over by the invaders – and reached over and turned it off. Message delivered: The media is not to be trusted.
The opening scene of the attack by parachutists was a moment of astonishing unreality. Viewers were informed that these were North Korean troops. Really? How could that be? North Korea, a country that is so desperately poor that it can't feed its own people or keep its lights on at night, has mounted an overwhelming attack all up and down the west coast of the United States? Where did the planes carrying them come from? Where were they staged? However, that unreality gradually faded as the movie developed its primary themes: resistance to communist aggression by American patriots.
The incongruity of North Korea’s invading and subjugating part of the United States was not originally part of the script. Originally, the invading force was supposed to be from China, but the Chinese press raised such a stink that political correctness took over and the Chinese troops and their insignia were changed to North Korea's.
There were scenes that viewers of the 1984 original movie would remember, including shortwave broadcasts by u201CRadio Free Americau201D to various guerrilla forces in occupied America, and the attack on the POW camp by the guerrillas to free the townspeople being held there. This was reminiscent of the French Resistance during World War II when rag-tag groups of civilians organized to impede, delay, and provoke disruption among German troops occupying France. Such groups planned, coordinated, and executed acts of sabotage on the power grid, transportation facilities, and communications networks.