It’s unfortunate when a film takes itself so seriously it ends up being unintentionally funny, or is it? It definitely made watching Dredd easier. Christopher Nolan got it right with his Batman trilogy but Peter Travis has completely missed the mark. Everything from the bad monologue at the start and finish to the bizarre game-like quality of some shots make it very difficult to take this film seriously. Not only that, it’s mis-titled too. In a future where the police act as judges, Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is the Judge to rule them all. He’s a beefy, 6 foot tall gun slinging guy with the growl to match. Given the task of assessing new recruit Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), he throws her straight in the deep end with the crime of her choice. Soon, they find themselves at war in a 70,000 person block of flats (Peach Trees) against Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), the drug lord to end all drug lords.
The first major problem with this film, and you’ll only discover this if you sit all the way through it, is the title. Dredd is the obvious way to go given it’s based on the comic books but it’s not actually about Dredd himself. The film is about the growth of Anderson in the twelve hours or so she’s stuck in Peach Trees. Starting out as a nervous woman trying to convince Dredd and herself that she’s ready, she ends the film with an assurance and confidence she definitely didn’t have at the start, or maybe it’s cold bloodedness. Meanwhile, Dredd doesn’t change at all. He starts as a growling masked man and ends as a growling masked man with maybe a tiny bit of rebellion instilled in him, but not much. Olivia Thirlby is the best thing about Dredd. She has the most substance, and best lipstick, of everyone and is developed much more than the rest of the cast. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the sequel focussed on her or if there was a spin off for Anderson.
The other major issue is it takes itself far too seriously for a film that has such excellently written lines like, “And as for you Ma-Ma, judgement time.” Really. It’s hard to see which direction they went in but the 300-esque slow motion and the fact no one smiles gives the impression it’s meant to be taken very seriously, and yet it doesn’t deliver the substance needed for the audience to do that. If it was just popcorn trash then it’d be great, but the constant shoot outs, slow motion shots of bullets going through cheeks and cheesy catchphrases mean it loses excitement, and the audience loses interest within the first forty minutes. Within about twenty minutes thirty people have been killed off, and the pace is kept the same throughout. You do get a bit bored of bullets flying around the place.
There’s one other really great thing about Dredd, apart from Thirlby, and that’s the shots from the perspective of someone on the drug Slo-Mo which slows your brain down so it’s operating at 1% of it’s normal speed. So when someone is thrown off a building and the film shows it from their point of view, you get a fabulous dream-like couple of minutes until it goes back to Dredd and he growls at someone before shooting them in real time. There’s one sequence showing Ma-Ma in the bath whilst she’s high which sums up these scenes. She’s playing with the bubbles which, under the influence of the drug, look like diamonds falling like rain. It makes the shoot outs oddly beautiful and the final scene with Ma-Ma is a great usage of slow motion, giving the film enough time to show more of her character than the rest of the film does.
It would be an enjoyable film if it wasn’t so comic booky and obvious (look out for the scene between Dredd and another Judge in the drug lab). It would also be an enjoyable film if it could decide whether it’s being serious or funny. 300 knew what is was doing, Christopher Nolan knew what he was doing and Peter Travis needs to take notes before making the inevitable sequel(s). And just once, can’t we have a masked vigilante with a camp voice instead?
Dredd 3D hits cinemas 7th September 2012.
Director: Pete Travis
Stars: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey
Runtime: 95 mins
Country: USA, UK, India