While last night’s watch of The Expendables 2 was a film firmly based in the action genre, Dredd is something a bit different and stands within a genre that, over the last few years, has grown into its own entity (with a few sub-genres within that), the unashamed comic book movie.
Based on the 2000AD comic Judge Dredd, Dredd takes us deep into the seedy underworld of Mega-City One and, from part way through the opening scene which establishes all we need to know about the titular judge, the comic book elements come to the fore.
Most obvious are the production design, particularly the background detail of the graffiti and the bright colours (particularly in the lighting) that to me reference a very 1980s style of comic book art – the place where Judge Dredd originally made his name – and the blood.
While in The Expendables 2 we had what seemed to be largely CGI blood doing its best to imitate the real stuff here it is a bright vivid red as it sprays at the camera as Dredd mercilessly chases down a group of “perps” he has judged guilty.
As the main body of the film starts writer Alex Garland makes an inspired choice, which I think, is the films saving grace – he introduces a rookie.
It’s a tried and tested plot device that brings in a character those of us new to the world of the movie can latch onto and learn along with (see R2-D2 and C-3PO in Star Wars) and, when your other main character is essentially a one-dimensional dispenser of justice, this is much-needed and really allows the viewer to find a way into the movie – if simply seeing the Judge Dredd on-screen was not enough to carry you through.
One thing that seemed to happen a lot when the film first came out in cinemas was it was compared to The Raid, and, while I can see why (the plots are virtually the same), it seems to do Dredd a disservice.
While The Raid is very much set in a ‘real’ world (or as real as martial arts/action movies get) Dredd is a very different beast, which brings me back to it being a comic book movie and this having become, really, its own genre now. This means that not only is the nature of the action different, but the delivery of the plot varies as well to create two, certainly comparable, but distinct, movies.
Throughout Dredd the production design is fantastic, and really is one of the films big highlights. While I am no aficionado of the comics it did seem to get the perfect balance between the iconic imagery of the 2000AD strips and a modern film interpretation with all the crucial elements – eagle shoulder pads, hulked up bikes, that helmet – all in place but in a way that suits a movie rather than the world of a comic.
Acting wise it is again something a bit different to many other movies. Throughout Karl Urban, as Dredd is suited, booted and helmeted so the only part of him we can see is his mouth and chin and, remarkably, he manages to get across a surprising amount of character and emotion just from his chin (well as much as Judge Dredd is required to get across anyway).
Olivia Thirlby and Lena Heady on the other hand are much more open to actual acting and, while there is nothing that is likely to win an award here, they play the parts knowing full well how this sort of movie works and completing its comic book style package.
While the film, reportedly, didn’t do very well at the cinema I certainly hope that the home releases help it because here a great new world has been created that would love the chance to explore further.