Coming on the back of the excellent news that Dredd 3D has debuted at the top of the Blu-Ray and DVD charts for this week, I thought it was appropriate to finally lay the case that Pete Travis’s big screen adaptation of the helmeted law enforcer from Mega-City One was by far and away the best comic book movie of last year
Set in the not too distant future, America is now a radiated wasteland and a sprawling urban jungle stretches across the East Coast. With crime an increasing problem, enforcers known as Judges are bestowed the power of being judge, jury and executioner to help keep the peace. Judge Dredd is the most feared; and after investigating a call to one of the many vertical townships, he becomes confined in the huge 200-story complex with Rookie Judge Anderson. The only way out is to fight, as he and Anderson aim to stop the drug-lord Ma-Ma, who has seized control of the building. Simple premise yes, but it’s as bombastically entertaining as it is basic in narrative.
Although encouraging seeing it shifting units in the DVD market, it is somewhat of a scant consolation considering the disappointing box office numbers from both over here, and especially across the pond. Incorrectly and unfairly perceived as a remake (and even a sequel) of the 1995 Sylvester Stallone tepid action flop, the Americans couldn’t seem to grasp that it wasn’t, in any way, connected. Couple this with a non-existent marketing campaign and it being issued the dreaded, yet utterly nonsensical, R rating, the film was always destined to struggle in the States. While it faired slightly better in the UK, where Dredd is one of the country’s most famous comic book characters, it barely made a dent and disappeared after just 3 weeks. Ultimately, it was such a shame for a film that delivers what many an action film fan had been craving for years; a brutal, 90 minute long, 18-rated, no holds barred depiction of a classic law enforcing anti-hero…but unfortunately for Dredd, Gareth Evans’s The Raid had been released months earlier and its story was very, very similar.
Harsh accusations of plagiarism engulfed the release of Dredd, despite production companies sitting on Alex Garland’s superb portrayal of the 2000AD gruff lawman for years. And even though the premise of both films is hardly ground breaking (see Die Hard, Escape from New York, Game of Death), it did undoubtedly affect the film’s credibility as an original piece of cinema merely because The Raid was released first. Internet a**e-holes (commonly known as trolls), slated the film before even seeing it, citing it as a “Raid Rip-off”. The demographic that Travis and Garland were relying on turned against the movie, and for no real reason. But let’s not dwell on why the film failed, let me explain why Dredd was superior to the other 3 powerhouses of comic book folklore that appeared on the silver screen in 2012: Spiderman, Batman, and of course, The Avengers (I’m not counting Men in Black 3 because a. I haven’t seen it and 2. I can’t bring myself to suggest anything is better than Will Smith).
All 4 of the major comic book movies released last year were entertaining in their own right. Christopher Nolan’s high concept conclusion to a stunning trilogy was a rip roaring success at the box office. Joss Whedon’s incredible ability to make The Avengers work, and work so well, was fantastic to watch unfold. And Marc Webb’s difficult task of getting everyone’s favourite neighbourhood Spiderman back on the big screen so soon after Sam Raimi departed the franchise was a solid and entertaining, if a little pointless, effort. I liked them all, no question, but we had seen them before. The Dark Knight Rises had nothing on its predecessor. The Avengers, while excellent, tried too hard to share screen time between its five thousand included heroes and The Amazing Spiderman was yet another origin story that no one really needed, or even wanted. Dredd however, felt utterly refreshing in an overly saturated and increasingly common genre.
2000AD is a comic book aimed at adults. The producers took a risk that films seldom do these days; it was an 18. It wasn’t watered down for the appeal of the Orange Wednesday crowd, and while this was likely the reason for its meagre box office takings, it was all the better for it artistically. Mega City One is unforgiving and brutal; to limit its portrayal to align with the standards of the BBFC would have been a mistake. So to see bullets tearing through the flesh of drugged up criminals in slow motion is like seeing the hand drawn panels of Carlos Ezquerra come to life. While bloody, ruthless and explicit in its violence, it wasn’t overly gratuitous or gory for the sake of it; it was essential to the ethos of Judge Dredd and Mega City One. …And wasn’t it odd in The Dark Knight Rises to see a gunned down police chief just lying on the floor in his pristine police uniform?
My main gripe with The Dark Knight Rises was that the story had far too many ridiculous bits in it. In an attempt to create a sophisticated comic book movie, Christopher Nolan inadvertently treated his audience like they were idiots. Like we wouldn’t notice the long list of infuriatingly stupid moments if we were distracted by a complicated story line (as humorously pointed out in this honest trailer www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQJuGeqdbn4). The film was good, but only if you didn’t take any time to think about it. Harkening back to early John Carpenter classics like Escape from New York, Alex Garland took the simple route when writing a story for Dredd’s second outing on the silver screen. Its simplicity was most definitely one of its strongest points and even computer game like in its approach; varying levels of increasing difficulty culminating in a final face off with the big boss. That was it. The film wasn’t bogged down with an hours worth of character origin, ala The Amazing Spiderman and it wasn’t over complicated in an attempt at being sophisticated, like The Dark Knight Rises. And while The Avengers jumped straight into it from the off, Marvel did need to push out 4 stand-alone movies to enable it to do so.
I miss the days of self-contained 90-minute movies. Everything has to be at least 2 hours long these days and The Avengers, TDKR & The Amazing Spiderman took full liberty with that trend. All pushing close to 3 hours, you really have to set aside a big chunk of your day just to watch them, so it was refreshing to be able to see a film that can be watched at around 10pm and still get to bed before midnight. Not to complain about lengthy films or anything, because sometimes it’s needed and often great to be fully immersed in a cinematic spectacle for a few hours, but it just puts a bit of a limit on repeat viewings. Some of my favourite films are just that because I can watch them at any time. I don’t have to be in the right frame of mind to whack on The Warriors for instance, I can just chuck it on and be entertained for a solid 90 minutes and then get on with my day. Dredd will definitely fall into that category once it’s purchased on Blu-Ray (from HMV).
(BEWARE SPOILERS) If you’re familiar with the comics, you will know that Judge Dredd is a wry, no-nonsense tough talking bad ass, and Karl Urban completely nailed it. Not only did he keep the helmet on (as he famously does in the comics), he balanced his performance with a stunning level of humour and had that sternness you would fully expect him to have. Spiderman however, was just a bit of a dick. It was good to see Andrew Garfield maintain a quite cocky and sarcastic demeanour, as Spiderman is in the comics, but there were moments when it teetered on the edge of him being unlikeable. It’s fair to say that this version of the Web head was more aligned with the character than the wet flannel that was Tobey Maguire, but don’t make a promise to a dying man who saved your life, only to completely ignore it after you fail to even turn up to the man’s funeral. That’s just harsh. As for Batman, well we just didn’t see enough of him in The Dark Knight Rises and that was quite irritating. Batman is quite possibly the best comic book character of all time; so to see him relegated to about 45 minutes of screen time only to retire was a bit disappointing. The Avengers? Well Marvel know their characters well enough to portray them perfectly, and portray them perfectly they did. Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk was the best on screen portrayal of the not-so-jolly green giant and was quite simply superb.
3D is a fad. No question, but somehow, the 3D in Dredd wasn’t actually that bad. If I had a choice I would’ve shunned seeing the film in 3 dimesions as I had done for both The Avengers and The Amazing Spiderman. It just doesn’t do anything for my peepers. My brain is more than capable of judging perspective in a 2D image, and I like the colour of films to be rich and vibrant, seeing a film with special glasses makes it dull and lifeless. The cinematic release however was a strictly 3D affair, but its use was limited and used in the right way. It enhanced the antagonists’ use of Slo-Mo, the time altering drug that features in the film, and genuinely created a real sense of euphoria that the drug is supposed to provide. The Slo-Mo sequences looked stunning and were a stark contrast to the grim and depressing reality of Mega-City One. Colours pulsated, light shimmered and the world transformed into an exhilarating, soft focused, false façade the audience could share. It was a wonderful juxtaposition with what was the harsh reality of a dystopian future, and what was enhanced through the use of narcotics. The sequences may have been overused a tad, but when they looked that good, it’s no real surprise to see Pete Travis milk it a little bit. To then see that a film can look so good, and be made at a fraction of the price as its contemporaries, is a testament to the production team behind the film. Of course, it didn’t rake in anywhere near as much the others, but then that was never going to happen. It might be ridiculous, even controversial, of me to entertain the idea Dredd is superior when you look at the figures, and figures don’t lie, but then Transformers continues to make millions and millions of pounds and they are awful films. Think about that.
Alex Garland has plans for a trilogy of Dredd movies, but after its abysmal performance at the box office it is unlikely his promising adaptation of such a cult hero will see the light of day. The Blu-Ray charts are encouraging though, so if units continue to shift then we might once again see Karl Urban don the helmet and grimace…but it needs to shift big. If you haven’t seen it, and enjoy a good old-fashioned action romp with unabashed violence, then it’s a must see. I might buy 3 copies just to help it get the sequel it really does deserve.
Dredd is available on Blu-Ray and DVD now. Go and buy it. Help the cause.
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