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Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The new Judge Dredd movie is a great chick-flick.

Most people have a favourite genre of fiction, one where they'll watch or read any old crap as long as it ticks the right boxes. For my mother, it's those crime novels that always have a dark picture of an alleyway on the cover and a blurb including the phrase "web of deceit". My friend Alex is a great aficionado of any and all vintage SF/F where the sets and costumes look like they were made out of cereal boxes. My own speciality is dystopic sci-fi/action movies, meaning that I got near-equal quantities of entertainment from the truly brilliant Children Of Men as I did from the baffling cinematic fart that is The Spirit. (For those of you who haven't seen The Spirit, it's basically what would happen if someone tried to remake Sin City while tripping balls. And allowed Samuel L Jackson full creative control over all of his and Scarlett Johansson's costumes. Seriously, ask me about The Spirit sometime. It has a bellydancer/Nazi/dentistry scene that you would not believe.)
My point is, you could not pay me to watch a three-star movie about a middle-aged white guy angsting over his divorce from Kate Hudson, but a three-star movie where the exact same guy duels a malfunctioning android in a city made entirely from neon striplighting and concrete rubble? I'm sold.

The problem is that my own outlook on the world often seems to clash with that of the filmmakers I love, ie: I generally view women to be people, and the creators of the films I watch give every impression of disagreeing with this viewpoint. Of course, I could try watching nothing but feminist documentaries and serious real-life dramas about women overcoming personal tragedies, but quite frankly those kinds of movies don't fulfill my needs vis-a-vis mutant zombie hordes, improbable leather body-armour, and soundtracks that sound like twelve-ton steel girders being banged together by Skrillex. Sadly, if I want to sit down and watch some ridiculous bullshit about a bunch of murderous idiots rappelling down the ruins of a post-apocalyptic megacity, then I generally have to put up with the only female characters in the movie either being Lara Croft clones, or a roomful of strippers who get gunned down in the second act.
My knowledge of the Judge Dredd comics is fairly limited (I'm more of a Halo Jones girl), but the trailers for the new movie were generic enough that I had every reason to suspect that it was your average run-of-the-mill "guy goes on a brainless killing-spree in the name of Justice" story. The surprising 95% Rotten Tomatoes rating and the presence of Cersei Lannister as the primary villain (!!!), however, were enough for me to give it a try. And you know what? This is an ideal girl-nerd action movie. It has all the exploding-head violence you'd expect from a movie about a capital punishment-obsessed cop battling drug-dealers in a futuristic towerblock, but none of the sexism you'd expect from, well, any film with that premise. Lena Headey is sneeringly excellent in her somewhat typecast role as a villainess perched at the top of the criminal food-chain, ordering her lackeys to rain death upon any commoners who get in her way. Dredd's rookie sidekick (Olivia Thirlby) may be young and inexperienced but she's also competent and professional, and actually gets more screentime and character development than Dredd himself.
Dredd (or Dredd 3D, because the 3D-movie marketing people are apparently still trying to make Fetch Happen) effectively shoots down the assumption that if you're going to see a brainless action movie, you're going to have to put up with some offensive shit as well. A lot of the time when people complain about Transformers and how it's, you know, sexist and all-round badly written, the comeback is that it's "just a stupid blockbuster". And this doubly counts for movies with higher age-ratings, where the filmmakers have a green light to show as much T&A as they want. In the case of Dredd, however, you have a relatively simple comicbook adaptation that's dark and gory enough to receive an 18 rating and yet mysteriously contains zero scenes where the camera lovingly pans over naked and/or recently-murdered strippers. The thing is, I'm not even advocating some kind of puritanical no-boobs law for cheesy action movies, I'd just like filmmakers to class up the boobs scenes a little, you know? Like maybe giving the lady characters a personality other than "daddy issues" or "likes to blow things up while wearing hotpants". 
After watching Dredd, I realised that the reason why it seemed so... weird, I guess... is that it didn't follow the kind of predictable cliches I was expecting. This type of movie -- especially one with an adults-only rating -- usually has very poorly-drawn characters and a lot of throwbacks to grindhouse cinema, but despite Dredd's plethora of extreme violence it never really went that route. Although it has the basic plot of a shoot-em-up videogame, the decision and emotional reactions made by the characters were far, far more intelligent and realistic than other movies of the genre. Which makes sense when you find out that it was written by the screenwriter of 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Never Let Me Go, all sci-fi movies with a broader appeal outside the main target audience of teenage boys and genre fans.
Judge Dredd has more in common with the emotionless killing-machines of '80s action movies than with the wrong-place-wrong-time John McClanes you see in most modern blockbusters. I'm kinda hoping this movie is successful enough for a sequel, actually, since the director has already stated that he'd like to explore the idea of Dredd as a fascist. Judge Dredd is in the unique position of being an adult comicbook antihero who hasn't been neutered or simplified by his film adaptation, filling a role that's almost a parody of the kind of right-wing American cop characters who glorify the idea of hyper-violent law enforcement. In some ways, Dredd 3D reminded me more of sophisticated films like Blade Runner and A Scanner Darkly than it did of more thematically similar movies like Demolition Man. The vision for Mega City One was founded in the real world rather than looking like the type of cartoonish, larger-than-life post-apocalyptic settings where most leather-clad antiheroes seem to reside. The aesthetic was solidly reminiscent of inncer-city towerblocks in the real world, neglected and graffiti-spattered, with charmless breezeblock slums sporting ironically chirpy names like "Peach Trees".
Upon reflection, I'd rate Dredd as being significantly better than The Dark Knight Rises because it's so much more consistent and self-aware. Obviously Nolan's Batman trilogy is more complex than any Judge Dredd series is likely to be, but TDKR missed its mark by such a wide margin that I'd put it below a simpler but more clearly thought-out movie like Dredd. And -- surprisingly enough considering Judge Dredd's total absence of backstory or character-development -- I found him to be a more appealing and engaging character than the most recent appearance of Nolan's Bruce Wayne. The two characters fill the same basic niche, but Dredd is virtually ego-free while the Dark Knight movies gradually became more and more about Bruce Wayne's manpain until we reached a point where the actions of side-characters and villains seemed tailored exclusively to inspire an emotional reaction from him. Judge Dredd is motivated so purely by dedication to the Law that we never even see his entire face, yet he somehow seemed more authentic than TDKR's Bruce Wayne.

Links
The full Dredd soundtrack is available to stream online, and I'd highly recommend it for any and all criminal ventures out into your friendly neighbourhood post-apocalyptic megacity. Also available is the equally excellent but rather more '80s-influenced Drokk: Music Inspired By Mega City One, by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow of Portishead.

Interview with Alex Garland, the writer and producer of Dredd. Having read this, I can really see how the film turned out so well and so faithful to the comics.

Previously on Hello, Tailor: Dressing for the Apocalypse, and Movie Costumes I Have Loved: Doomsday.

23 comments:

  1. God damn you to hell, o Tailor! Now I have to go and see this. *shakes fist*

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  2. Awesome! I've been quietly looking forward to this for ages, so I'm really glad it's getting good write-ups. I only wish the rating was lower so I could take my little sister, because she LOVES dystopias. (Although she's more in favour of the Zombies-outside-the-gates style then the totalitarian-government style)

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  3. I'm so happy that you like it. I'm waiting for this movie like forever and I was so afraid that it will be bad or very bad. But right now I'm totally calm. Thanks.

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  4. I went to see this earlier with my mum and it was awwwwwwwwwwwwwwesome. My mum was pretty much there for the blood and gore and ultraviolence, but I do like to dip in and out of 2000AD as whim takes me and I've always really enjoyed Judge Dredd. And having realised just how *little* I know about Dredd's backstory (though I do know some stuff), I'm kind of amazed at how familiar the character was. Or something like that - like... you know him, but you don't know anything about him. Like someone you always see on the train perhaps. Anderson was awesome and had cracking development. Most of all, I think I liked how this was, in some ways, a regular cop movie - old-timer and rookie and the fact that Anderson is female made little difference to their dynamic.

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  5. "dark and gory enough to receive an 18 rating and yet mysteriously contains zero scenes where the camera lovingly pans over naked and/or recently-murdered strippers"


    A+, dude.


    Did you see The Raid when it came out? Indonesian (director/writer was Welsh, though) martial arts movie with the exact same tower-assault motif, super satisfying violence. (but did that thing where they "avoid sexism" by... not having any women in it, bar wives for character-development)

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  6. Ahh this post was like reading the inside of my brain because I too love these action-packed dystopian sci fi films and tv shows and get SO TIRED of having to put up with these sad excuses for females. I agree with everything. You are spot on. I will see this film.

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  7. I had high hopes for this film, and even more eager to see after reading your review (which amazingly didn't focus on the costumes ;-) Thanks for writing a review after my own heart. My own film tastes are similar to your, and I was similarly disappointed in TDKR for much the same reasons.

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  8. Because I hang out a lot with a group of guys who used to all live together in a ramshackle house seemingly made of VHS tapes, I had somehow become kind of excited about this movie by osmosis, so your review is definitely cementing my desire to see it.

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  9. Wait, 90%+ on Rotten Tomatoes? *And* it's not completely terrible on gender issues? Holy crap, I actually have to see this. If only to wipe the memory of the Stallone version from my brain. (Also: liked for mention of Halo Jones.)

    (Also also: I'm about a year late on this one, but if you want to avoid painfully sexist action movies, never watch Ryan Gosling's "Drive". It is not good in that regard.)

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  10. i'm feeling mad with power cos so many people say they're gonna see the movie off the back of this post, haha. to be fair, i wasn't planning on seeing it in the first place, either!

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  11. nope! totally un-bad, panic over. :)

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  12. SWEET. i'm hoping the sequel will have more, you know, informational dredd content. ;) that is, if a sequel gets made.

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  13. :) thanks!

    i heard about The Raid but i didn't see it because of roger ebert's review? idk, would you recommend it...?

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  14. you thought Drive was sexist? huh, you're actually the first person i've seen express that opinion! it's not perfect, but IMO it's wayyyy more sensitive towards gender issues/poor representations of masculinity/femininity than a hell of a lot of movies. have you read this? http://bookshop.tumblr.com/post/18178855096

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  15. Nope, thanks for the link. Interesting to see how people with probably fairly similar views can disagree so much on something. I watched it recently with my sister, and we both wanted to throw the DVD out the window when it was finished. I posted my explanation of why I hated it so much at the end of the linked dreamwidth thread.

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  16. I'm a huge Karl Urban fan so I would be seeing it anyway, but excited it actually appears to be a good movie!

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  17. ALEX GARLAND wrote the Dredd script??? SO SOLD. Then again I'm biased because he wrote a great book set in Manila that feels just as grotty as the place really is.

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  18. I was already excited by this, and I'm *so* glad it's legitimately good (also: '3D marketing people are still trying to make Fetch happen' made me laugh *so* hard)

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  19. Beth Matthews5 April 2013 22:31

    Bit late to the party. I'm a lurker and I dumped Dredd into my Netflix queue based on this review but only just got around to watching it. I agree with this post 100%. Even when they touched on the rape stuff it was never done in a titillating or exploitative way.

    Also, “Dredd is virtually ego-free” THIS. So much this. One moment that really stuck out for me was the “wait” scene. I think in another action movie that scene could have been a big grand-standing moment for the male lead but in this film it was just…matter of fact? In fact, I was waiting for Dredd to shoot or maim or otherwise kill the guy so it was great when Anderson got to do it instead. I hope they do get a sequel so Dredd and Anderson can kick more ass together.

    Oh another thing I loved which is in the costumes-vein is the opening where we see Dredd getting into his gear. I thought that was just great, so subtle. It's a way to humanize him, show that he's vulnerable, without having to add unnecessary backstory. And when I rewatched that sequence after watching the whole I thought it was almost shocking to see Dredd's skin. Like his armor and Judge persona are so much a part of him it was like peeling a turtle out of his shell. Really well-done stuff. I'm glad I gave it a try. :)

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  20. "My point is, you could not pay me to watch a three-star movie about a
    middle-aged white guy angsting over his divorce from Kate Hudson, but a
    three-star movie where the exact same guy duels a malfunctioning android
    in a city made entirely from neon striplighting and concrete rubble?
    I'm sold."

    A thousand times, this.

    It does confuse me sometimes, that when I'm pitching a scifi/fantasy whatever that I really liked I'm always emphasizing the realism and emotional impact put into characters, relationships (romantic, friends, family, any kind), and people dealing with their issues, but when it comes to books that are ALL ABOUT that shit (ie, the entire "literary fiction" genre) I'm bored to tears. For fuck's sake, raise the stakes! Why have an accountant in rural Illinois bemoaning the death of his daughter and subsequent estrangement from his wife, when you could be doing it WITH SPACE PIRATES instead??

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  21. Love love LOVE the scene where the bad guy tries to get into Anderson's brain, because there's that half second flash of nudity and then BAM. The movie all but explicitly states "You in the audience who were hoping to see Judge Anderson naked, who wanted to be titillated by sexual violence, YOU ARE BAD PEOPLE AND SHE OWNS YOU."

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  22. I watched Dredd on your reccomendation. It reminded me a lot of Balineau 13. Which is an awesome movie mostly made up of Parkour Porn plus occasional gunfights while railing against poverty.

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