Steel Dawn, starring Kurt Russell, is the wonderfully minimalist sequel to the hit movie Red Dawn, and features most of the original cast in some capacity, as well as all new characters. While Steel Dawn follows the basic sequel formula of repeating its predecessor as much as possible, it also succeeds in breaking away from convention by borrowing liberally from such avant-garde films as Waterworld, Solarbabies, and Metalstorm: the Destruction of Jared-Syn. This new spin on movie-making is laregly due to the film’s forward thinking director, Lance Hool, who unseated the film’s previous director, John Milius. The reasons for Milius’ departure from his franchise after only one movie is still a hotly contested issue today, nearly 30 years after the release of Steel Dawn.
Milius went on to direct Conan the Barbarian, and ironically, Conan became such a huge hit that the studio forced Hool to reshoot several scenes in order to make Steel Dawn look more like Conan the Barbarian… which makes me wonder why they didn’t just keep Milius in the first place.
Enough history, though, let’s talk about the movie. If you’ve seen Red Dawn, and I’m sure you have, then explaining Steel Dawn to you is basically moot. Still, I’d recommend Steel Dawn, especially if you were a fan of the epic sword fight scenes in Red Dawn.
So, Steel Dawn picks up a few years after Red Dawn, and begins with Kurt Russell’s character meditating in the desert. Interestingly, no one EVER calls him by name in the ENTIRE movie, and oddly, he’s listed as “Norman” in the credits. Anyway, he’s meditating in the desert, and in the Mind Space of his Mind, he is suddenly attacked by a gang of half-sized, subterranean sand people! However, they are quickly defeated by this zen master. What’s especially great about this scene is that there is no dialog- Hool’s masterful direction simply does an excellent job, visually, of showing off how much Russell’s character has grown and matured since defeating the Koreans at the end of Red Dawn.
Conquering his inner sand persons, he returns to physical reality ENLIGHTENED, but thirsty. He wanders around the desert for a while until he meets up with his old friend Mako. Mako was GREAT in Red Dawn, and it’s a real shame that his role in this movie is so diminished. Originally, he had a bigger role, but bowed out (and broke contract!) to star as the Oriental Wizard in… Conan the Barbarian! Ironic as hell, right? Still, some Mako is better than no Mako, as I always say. Russell (Norman) and Mako go to a bar, but Russell passes out after one beer, and while he’s sleeping it off, Road Warriors show up and kill Mako! It’s a sad end to Mako’s tale.
By the time Russell wakes up, Mako is dead and the Road Warriors are gone, so he travels to a nearby farm to start a new life. Only three people live at this farm: Kesha, Tark, and their kid, Chut. Kesha is played by none other than Kesha, and if you’re a little bothered that they let her user her real name as the character’s name, you’re not alone. In fact, it totally ruined my immersion in this movie- but only for a minute, because as soon as Tark (played by the late, great Brion James) is coupled with the wise-cracking half-pint Chut, this whole movie becomes Infinitely Awesome. It’s unfortunate that we never got to see a spin-off movie about these two, it would have been fantastic. The Red Dawn franchise only spawned on more movie, the prequel Steele Justice, which follows the VERY minor character from Red Dawn, John Steele, as he attempts to thwart the events leading up to the Korean invasion. While Steele Justice doesn’t feature Tark and Chut, I would still recommend it.
Time passes, and the Road Warriors show up to steal the farm’s water, but Kurt Russell defeats all of them, and even kills their leader (played by the old underground man from the Matrix 2 and 3!). With no more predators, Russell is free to live at the farm in a “progressive” relationship with Kesha and Tark. He teaches Chut to meditate, and also he has a dog friend. The movie ends on an optimistic note, leaving you believing that Russell’s character finds peace as a farmer.
I give this film 2 Smiley Faces and a Bag.
Get it on Amazon.