I really like the Dredd movie.
I mean, I really like it. This isn’t all that surprising; I was an enthusiastic reader of 2000AD when I was a kid, and Karl Urban has yet to disappoint (he’s Bones, he’s Eomer, he’s the best thing in Doom the movie – he’s genre’s favourite actor!). The chatter from fans was positive despite not nearly enough people watching it at the cinema, and, let’s face it, it had to be better than the Stallone version.
Even so, watching it again at the weekend whilst tidying the living room (hyper-violence gives me the pep needed to remove the gravy stains from our coffee table) I found myself startled by how much I loved it; at the end I was grinning and nodding like a loon. I may even have bopped around the living room to the closing credits. I had to ask myself, what is it? Why does this film please me so much?
There is a lot to like. Visually, it is spot on. What I remember mainly of the Stallone version is that at first I liked the way it looked – Mega-City One looks crazy and you can see that it came from the comics – but as the film progresses it rapidly becomes less and less 2000AD and more Stallone’s Latest Vehicle, until you realise it is in fact unwatchable pap. Dredd seems to work in reverse; at first it feels too real, too gritty, like this is New York of a few years from now, but as you follow Dredd on the opening bike chase and into one of the blocks the atmosphere of 2000AD settles over you like a sooty cloud. Everything is soaked in sickly sodium yellow, and the Judge’s uniforms are dusty, lived in. By the time Dredd is striding through the precinct informing Control of “bodies for resyk” you are in that world.
The soundtrack! The soundtrack. I am in legitimate love with the soundtrack. I am listening to it when I’m writing and it’s fabulous; frenetic, doom-laden, anxious, ass-kicking. It’s pitch perfect, as important to the film as it’s visuals. Action sequences are cooler with it, more frightening, and the scenes where certain people take a dive from the top of Peach Trees are more beautiful, more horrifying. And I love Urban’s Dredd too. I expected to, really, but he’s more than just a grumpy chin – he’s stoic, relentless, and hiding a tiny twisted streak of dark humour deep within himself (very deep). I love LOVE that after he pushes Ma Ma off the balcony his only comment is “Yeah.” Because that’s all you need with Dredd.
But I suspect what lifted this movie above my usual general appreciation for a good, ass-kicking action movie was the female characters. The women in this film are great, and you know it makes me a little bit sad to say it, but that’s actually pretty rare in films at the moment. Yeah sure, you might get the token woman, and she might even be quite good at punching (usually kicking) people, but most of the time we will be viewing her through the Male Gaze – she will have her midriff showing or wear latex – and she will partially exist as a reward for the much more important male character.
In Dredd, we have Judge Anderson. This is her story, in fact – a rookie with questionable grades out for a final assessment – and we see her go through the wringer, but this is the thing; she is every bit as tough as Dredd. Olivia Thirlby has a sort of ethereal quality that initially gives Anderson a sense of vulnerability but we quickly discover that actually, this Judge can have you helpless and wetting yourself in seconds. The scenes where she a) demonstrates exactly how much control she has in the mind of the scummy perp and b) stands up to Dredd and makes her own Judgement made me cheer. At no point does Dredd patronise her, and at no point does the possibility of romance raise its perfumed head – my god, how refreshing is that? Not that I have a problem with romance, not at all, but so often it is a foregone conclusion.
And there’s Ma Ma, played with nearly uncomfortable intensity by Lena Headey. Like Dredd, she isn’t overburdened with lines but she manages to convey menace with just a certain way of standing, a particular frown. She is in charge of a lot of men who appear to respect her, or are terrified of her, and sex doesn’t seem to come into it at all. She isn’t using her sexiness as a weapon; she isn’t played for sexiness at all, in fact. She is just a serious Bad Ass, and one who will Fuck You Up.
Even the minor female characters get better treatment than usual. The woman who lets Dredd and Anderson into her apartment is brave and no-nonsense, doing what she needs to in order to save her family (for what good it does her). The Chief Judge is a woman too, and although you sense she probably has a better idea of what is going on than Dredd, this isn’t played as conniving or in any way negative; she’s just doing her job, and doing it well.
This is a great film, and it’s elevated further for me because at no stage did I experience that slight sinking feeling I often get these days when watching a movie; when a topless scene appears for no other reason than it’s assumed the audience is both male and straight; when a woman appears only as a prize or wish fulfilment; when whole chunks of the plot suddenly become very predictable because Romance. Dredd has female characters that are actually fully realised people, with interests and goals that do not revolve around a penis. I liked that. I loved that. And I loved everything else about it too.