12 September 2012

DREDD- Review

Unfortunately delayed from last December, Dredd has finally hit cinemas a couple of months after The Raid, a film with which it shares some narrative similarities. I say that the timing is unfortunate, not for Dredd, but for people who, like me, are going to be intensely irritated by people who insist that it ripped off The Raid whenever it's brought up. And I'm going to be bringing it up a lot- this is really a great sci-fi action movie, and a rock-solid reboot.

In a post-apocalyptic landscape, 800 million citizens of Mega-City One, a huge, concrete metropolis that spans from what used to be Boston to what used to be Washington DC, are on the brink of anarchy. This particular film follows one of the city's law enforcers, Judge Dredd, through a day in his working life. But on this day, he's tasked with assessing Anderson, a rookie Judge with psychic abilities, shortly before a routine investigation leaves both him and the rookie trapped inside Peach Trees, an immense residential high-rise that is ruled by the murderous Ma Ma clan.

To answer your first question, yes; Dredd does a superb job of obliterating any memories of 1995's effort, starring Sylvester Stallone as Mega-City One's most steadfast enforcer of the Lawrgh. There's no point in the new film where I was reminded of the previous incarnation- it never even entered my mind. This is such a cinematic reinvention, and a reboot worth making. Unlike another reboot from this year, The Amazing Spider-Man, it doesn't try to broach an origin story for Dredd, instead going the way of The Incredible Hulk, but without the pressure of building up a mythology with other films.

For a little while, (and only a little while) its approach reminded me of Doctor Who, in as much as we're actually meant to identify with Dredd's young female partner, Anderson, who's played by a tough and likeable Olivia Thirlby, while the story remains reticent about the titular character. We know he's a badass, sure, but it's not like Dredd is some kind of poster-boy superhero for the Halls of Justice- he's a guy doing his job. Hell, even the actor playing him isn't after fanfare- Karl Urban remains true to the comics, by never removing his helmet while playing Dredd. Again, look at how often they had Andrew Garfield appearing sans mask in Spider-Man and you can see the benefit of casting an actor who is liked by fans, rather than a big star, a la Stallone.

This unflinching reverence is characteristic of the film, although there is one moment where I felt like they shied away from what had already been established about Dredd's attitude to enforcing the law, involving two kids who he encounters in Peach Trees. But the kids are the least of the film's antagonists, with a cold and frightening Lena Headey leading the charge as Ma Ma. She's a memorable adversary with an interesting backstory, and Headey is virtually unrecognisable in her performance- when she and Dredd eventually clash is when the film is at its most unpredictable.

By avoiding the origin story and showing Dredd at work, it actually lays superior groundwork, and a solid foundation on which to build the planned sequels. The exterior shots dry up after the first 20 minutes or so, but with Cape Town doubling for the post-apocalyptic Mega-City One, there's already a sense of a world that is lived in, rather than a sterile stage for setpieces. Alarming statistics make their way into the dialogue, including the fact that the Judges are only capable of dealing with 6% of violent crimes, because of the sheer size of the population.

The judge-jury-executioner function speeds up due process quite a bit, but the film neither pontificates about authority and abuse of power, nor revels in the brutality of Dredd's working practices. When there is violence, the violence is artful- this is a top-end, hard-edged 18 certificate film- but it never desensitizes the audience like the bloodless violence of a 12A tentpole, or the ludicrous excess of torture porn. The action also makes the best out of what was clearly a much smaller budget than many comic book adaptations, thanks to Alex Garland's clever and gripping script, and some great cinematography from Slumdog Millionaire's Oscar winning DP, Anthony Dod Mantle.

In terms of the visuals, it's only a shame that the film leans so heavily on 3D. It feels like 3D in live-action movies is in the midst of a slump, ahead of surefire hits like The Hobbit or the much delayed Avatar sequels, and I've talked to far too many people who don't want to go and see Dredd because 2D screenings are so limited and they don't want to see it in 3D. You should hopefully have gleaned that I think it's worth seeing in the cinema, mostly for the visuals and the script, but not least because I really want to see the planned sequels. It's a solidly old-fashioned action movie that should bring the character into the mainstream. That is, if there's any justice.

Dredd is now showing, in 3D, in cinemas nationwide, and in 2D in select screens.
If you've seen Dredd, why not share your comments below? And no, don't bother mentioning The Raid. If this had come out last December, would any of you have claimed that The Raid ripped off its story? Thought not...

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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