Dredd (2012)

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*. In my notes on Judge Dredd, the first crack at filming this long-lived comic-book series, I said I didn’t want to spend a lot of time talking about it, not because it was a bad movie but because it was so generic.
*. I’d like to say the same thing here, as Dredd is just as generic, albeit the genre has evolved. We now take comic books much more seriously and the fanboy community doesn’t like it when you mess with the franchise. One thing that means here is that you’re not going to be able to guess it’s Karl Urban under Dredd’s helmet (though we can note how well he does the Dredd sneer). There was a real backlash against showing Stallone’s face in the first film and the producers listened.
*. On the same point about taking comic books seriously we also have a much “darker” movie than the Stallone version. Which is fine, but the original comic books weren’t meant to be taken all that seriously in the first place so I’m not sure how true to the spirit of the original this is.
*. Another change to note is that we use more CGI and have more first-person shooter firefights so that everything looks like a video game. That said, they really do try to put a new spin on things in the first big shootout in Peachtree Towers. I thought this was terrific, all super slow-motion and glittering psychedelic colours. It apparently took them a long time to film this sequence, but it looks amazing.

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*. My only problem with this scene is that after it’s over the film has basically shot its bolt effects-wise, with nothing new left to show us.
*. 800 million people live in Mega-City One and everything outside the walls is a wasteland? What do they all eat? Soylent Green? Is that what they mean when they call a meat wagon to take a body to “Resyk”?
*. Once things settle down it turns into a very conventional action film. The set-up is the tried-and-true buddy-cop formula, with the crusty, hard-as-nails vet paired up with the rookie. I wonder where that convention got started? Probably back in the 1930s sometime. And it refuses to die.
*. Another convention is that of the high-rise action film. This movie was often compared to The Raid, and the resemblance is obvious. You could also think of the French zombie movie The Horde. Or Die Hard I suppose.
*. The script, by Alex Garland, strikes me as really uninspired. Aside from the usual set-up, the chief villain, Ma-Ma, has no personality at all. Lena Headey, who knows something about playing the bad guy, is woefully underused. When she’s finally disposed of it’s entirely anticlimactic, and they make it even worse by having Dredd, in an act that seems quite of character, sadistically giving her a shot of her own hallucinogenic poison before he tosses her off the balcony. This allows them to show her death in slow-motion, which by this point in the film is an effect that’s getting stale.
*. It’s also not entirely clear why we’re seeing her in slow-motion since reality should only seem to be moving slower from her point of view. I had the same question about the shootout in the drug den as well. Why should the audience be seeing action as though we’re the ones who are on Slo-Mo? This is just a quibble in a film like this, but still.
*. I also thought a problem with the script was the way they kept dragging Kay around long after it made no sense to be still holding on to him.
*. In her review of Magnum Force Pauline Kael remarked that such a film’s audience “rather likes its fantasies to be uninvolving.” Enter Dredd: faceless, character-less, more a point of view in a video game than then a person. A one-man wrecking crew, he destroys people (and sets) and snarls out one-liners. Having sent Ma-Ma to her final end he merely says “Yeah” and walks away. He’s less ridiculous than Stallone simply by being less.
*. The lesson seems to be that character only gets in the way of such a film. We don’t watch movies like this so much as we rubberneck at them. Kael was on to something: we want to look, but we don’t want to get involved.

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