Wednesday, 19 September 2012
Film: Dredd (2012)
Cert 18, 95 Minutes
2000AD's iconic fascist policeman from future dystopia Mega City One gets a reboot that tries to eliminate the memory of the misjudged Sylvester Stallone starrer from the 1990s. Starring Karl Urban as Judge Dredd and written by Alex Garland, the film is a decent enough action shoot 'em up and has the odd nice touch but is overall quite pedestrian and lacks the satire and surrealism that makes the comic such a delight.
The set up remains true to the comic book origins: in a dystopian future, after a nuclear war has devastated much of the world, the remaining populations are crowded into giant walled mega cities containing enormous tower blocks housing thousands. Criminality and decay reign but some kind of order is maintained by the Judges, high tech policeman who have the right to be judge, jury and executioner. Best among them is Dredd, who is asked to assess rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a 'mutie' with the power to read minds. Investigating a triple homicide in the lawless Peach Towers, the pair stray onto the drug operation of block ruler Ma Ma (Lena Headley). She seals the block, trapping the judges inside, who have to fend off all the men and weapons that Ma Ma can throw at them in order to survive and to try to being her to justice.
Probably owing to budgetry constraints, Dredd's action mostly takes place in studio sets that represent the inside of Peach Towers. There is much creeping along corridors and lurking in shadows which gets quickly repetitive. It was also very bad luck for the film that The Raid, released earlier this year had virtually the same plot, making Dredd feel even more unoriginal. The action mostly consists of gunfights with little variation. The exception to this are the scenes experienced by characters on the drug Slo-Mo, a narcotic that slows down the perception of time. In the film's best scene, the judges break in to an apartment and engage in a gunfight that is seen in extreme slow motion, with bits of blood and glass lazily drifting across the screen, looking especially effective in 3D. Why anyone, however, would want to slow down their perception of time (especially as most of Peach Towers are unemployed and have nothing to do all day anyway) is never explained.
The main problem with Dredd is that it is barely a science fiction movie at all. What we have here is a Dirty Harry movie where the cop just happens to be wearing a silly helmet. Perhaps this is deliberate - Dredd first appeared in a world where the Dirty Harry movies were king and where President Ronald Reagan was quoting Harry's famous line 'make my day'. Like the third Harry movie The Enforcer, the grizzled cop is saddled with a rookie female officer and like Magnum Force, Dredd has to face four corrupt fellow judges - coincidence or nod to Dredd's inspiration? In stature and delivery, Urban plays Dredd very much in a Clint Eastwood style too. The problem is, Judge Dredd the comic was a reaction against these things; the concept is a satire, with the writers looking at the alarming shift to the Right in 1980s America and Britain and lampooning it with a superfascist policeman who will shoot you for jaywalking. This social commentary that so informs the comic is lacking here, as are the more surreal elements of Judge Dredd's world. Instead of a society gone mad, with every type of oddball character and deviant, we have a depressingly familiar one, a ghetto writ large. Apart from the odd scar and a chap with robot eyes, the villains are the sort of heavies you'd see in any crime film. Headley, as Ma Ma, is especially unmemorable, less a character than a woman with a scar. Is this the best the makers could come up with, when there are over 30 years of great characters to choose from?
On the plus side, Urban looks the part, doesn't take his helmet off (the one thing guaranteed to get the uberfans chomping) and doesn't send Dredd up. Thirlby also aquits herself well, her psi-talents adding an extra element of sci-fi to a film that desperately needs it. There's a very effective scene where she enters the mind of Ma Ma's underling (a good turn from Wood Harris) and they fight for supremacy in his head. The design of the Judge's costume, guns and motorcycles are good, making a clever compromise between the look of the comic and believablility. Occasionally there is the odd satirical line and long term fans will be pleased to hear the script use the vocabulary of Mega City One with it's perps, iso-cubes and dead people being sent for recycling. Unfortunately the great swearword 'Drokk' has been dropped in favour of the more obvious one.
In the end Dredd is an entirely serviceable action flick, directed competently by Pete Travis, which will satisfy those who know little about the Judge's literary origins. For fans of the acerbic and anarchic comic strips however, Dredd is as disappointing in its own way as the earlier movie was and looks a little cheap as well. I wouldn't hold out for a sequel anytime soon.
GK Rating: **