Weekend Restrospective - Your Move Creep...

DREDD (2012)

I was never a huge reader of 2000AD or comics generally as a kid, simply because I couldn't get hold of them often. However I did try to get my hands on them whenever it was at all possible, be it through random issues sold in mid '90s newsagents or as annuals and collections I found in local used book shops. Judge Dredd was easily the favourite thanks to his visual appearance, the look of the world and the characterisation. They left their mark on my imagination, with things like body recyclers, weird fashion fads (Get Ugly!) and riot foam staying in my memory. My feelings on another attempt at bringing this all the screen were pretty mixed but I'm happy to report that John Wagner's big chinned fascist finally gets a movie worth seeing, and more importantly it actually includes the character he created rather than a dumbed down interpretation.

Karl Urban impresses in the title role with a bare minimum of dialogue, and finally gets a character he can call his own after smaller parts in the likes of The Lord of the Rings sequels, The Bourne Supremacy or even Star Trek. Despite being good in all of these they were never his movies of course, so this changes that - and he does it all without eyes. The helmet goes on in almost total darkness moments after the story begins, and it never comes off again. It's pure angry face acting, all upturned Carlos Ezquerra style mouth, grimacing teeth and growling delivery. Dredd is a total jerk, a faceless figure of authority who sneers his way through the story, dishing out death and super dry remarks. Which is perfect.

The villains opposing him are an ugly, violent bunch and the tone of the movie is certainly no buddy cop adventure. There's no scenery chewing to be found here, just thugs, junkies and lowlifes. Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) fits into this world perfectly as a scarred drug kingpin, making examples of her enemies and taking no nonsense from her cohorts. The film itself is a dirty, grimy, ultra-violent story full of exploding limbs and flying gore, a nice mix of new and old that combines modern sensibilities with the kinds of future visions we used to see from Verhoeven and Carpenter. The bleak atmosphere of something like Escape From New York is often present. The look of the setting is often lurid with harsh lighting and filthy hallways as the central pair of Judges become trapped inside a monolithic tower block.

Personally I like this adaptation a lot, and it's refreshing to see it as a kind of antithesis to the bigger blockbusters around. It's cheap but certainly not cheerful. It's colourful, but not easy on the eyes. This kind of thing isn't for everyone of course, and saying so is perhaps quite an understatement. No other comic book adaptations showcase incendiary bullets and exploding wounds like this. It's a shame the rating it achieved probably killed it at the box office, but a low marketing presence and the source material's lack of exposure internationally probably didn't help. I also don't think the push for 3D on this kind of budget did it any favours either, despite a few effective sequences.

And as for the plot, it's a nice small scale story about Judge Dredd the jaded cynic and Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) the rookie trying to make a difference. But don't worry there are no cheesy character arcs or mutual friendships blossoming here. If anything Anderson is the protagonist who faces the challenges and walks away changed at the end. Dredd is always stony faced, always perturbed, never changing. During Anderson's field training a simple murder investigation turns out to be a lot more complicated than they first imagined and things unfold one floor at a time. But it essentially boils down to them being trapped in a tower block Die Hard style, and then shooting everyone they meet to get to the big bad on the top level.

It feels a little video gamey at times, right down to the bombastic synth score by Paul Leonard-Morgan. But I can't complain too much as it's a pretty satisfying structure overall. If there are any minor issues it's that there's a lack of futuristic elements, and the shoot in South Africa lends it too much real world atmosphere instead of a more heightened reality. A few added robots and hover wagons would have been nice even just as set dressing. It could have been weirder and darker despite a lot of good world building and a sense that this is a true post nuclear war cityscape. That being said at least it's vastly superior to the 1995 attempt which failed to bring the material to the screen beyond some of the production design. I'm relieved that this really is Dredd on screen instead of a cheese and ham filled Stallone vehicle moonlighting as a 2000AD adaptation.

In terms of keeping to the material there is a lack of direct satire but it has a few touches in Alex Garland's script. I like the grave yard headstone city landscape and the way the wide eyed trainee Anderson actually becomes a cog in the system by the end. Despite kicking a lot of ass along the way there is a sense of innocence being lost. There are at least a few interesting ideas to be examined in what is such a stripped down action movie. But RoboCop is still probably the most effective translation of the comic's tone even though the obvious cues it takes from the material are never acknowledged (fans should seek out the Future Shock documentary). It's still a big shame that in the end this won't get a true sequel, despite a fanbase growing and a lot of home video sales being achieved. Maybe it was always doomed to be a cult movie, but at least it's one that is worthy of attention.