Review: Dredd (2012)

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I asked He Judges to watch something I’d seen already so I wouldn’t feel obliged to write *another* post this week, but he remembered Dredd very fondly himself and was determined to rewatch it. I was only half paying attention, was tired and full of cold virus and beer, so honestly, no this time, really, this is going to be a short post.

What he remembered most fondly was Karl Urban’s grumpy-faced eloquence and the dry humour of the script, and I can now vouch for both of these things being points in Dredd‘s favour. Sometimes I felt like Urban’s expressively downturned mouth was a parody of James Purefoy playing evil (I love James Purefoy but…you’ll know what I mean if you know. He can be something of a ham…), but it had a surprising number of quirks so that the character’s responses were clear enough even between his blunt words. I’m not sure if I think Urban’s voice was as good a fit for the role as his chin, as he’s actually got quite a soft voice, but that’s not much of a complaint. Alongside him, Olivia Thirlby was a good foil, watchful and nowhere near as fragile as her small frame implied. As Anderson, she reminded me of a young Claudia Black, and despite some inconsistencies in the portrayal of her telepathic abilities, Anderson generally held her own in amongst the destruction.

Dredd really has the look of a comic book movie, in that way that things based specifically on a particular trade paperback do. The way certain shots are framed — Anderson standing above the man she’s just dismantled by telepathy, the splatter of a head on a hard surface, the imagined (unimaginative) scenes of what one villain would do to Anderson if he got his hands on her — all look like they’ve been lifted directly from the pages of the comics this is based on. I’m not really invested enough to check whether they were or not, and the feeling wasn’t quite consistent enough for me to be certain either way, but I’m not much of a fan of the technique. The film was stylised enough and had its own visual identity without needing to aim for that kind of framework, but I guess ymmv. I did enjoy the blissed-out, burned-out colours and slo-mo that represented the experience of taking the drug ravaging Mega City 1, and the design of the rest of it, but still found the overly-composed ‘comic’ shots annoying.

As the pusher of said drug, and the boss villain sought by Dredd and Anderson at the top of the Peach Trees tower, Lena Headey had a lot of fun. It was what I’d hoped for from her in Pride & Prejudice and Zombies: all wry lip-twists and laconic glares, confident in her untouchable authority. The plot was fairly thin though, and this isn’t really a movie where it’s worth longing for any kind of characterisation, as that’s not what we’re here for. The action didn’t hold my attention particularly, unfortunately, and the spatter-gore of the comic-book violence left me as unimpressed as it does in comics themselves. That I couldn’t raise much interest may be a feature of having known the ending in advance, so it wouldn’t stop me from watching a sequel. For the very small amount of character work to be done, Urban and Thirlby were great, and when it was confident enough to stick to its own style, the film had a distinctive, sleek look about it. I’ll probably be intrigued enough to watch any other outings in the ‘verse, but it’s not got enough in the way of contextualising and characterisation to become my favourite superhero movie any time soon.

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