Dredd movie review
Review I haven't seen The Raid, the skirmish-in-a-skyscraper flick so many Dredd reviewers have compared with this latest attempt to bring 2000AD's favourite anti-hero to the big screen. But I have been reading the comic on and off since 1977 - more on than off; it went a bit crap in the 1990s - and Judge Dredd remains a weekly joy, especially when penned by co-creator John Wagner.
And I have to admit, I have a soft spot for the 1995 Sylvester Stallone vehicle. Like it or loathe it, you can't argue that the move got the punked-up visual style of the comic, defined primarily by co-creator Carlos Ezquerra and fellow artist Mike McMahon, off pat.
I am the law
Dredd presents an altogether bleaker, more grimy view, a 2012 take on the future rather than one from 1980. With its widely spaced cityblocks, low-rise areas threaded with multi-lane motorways, dawn mist and harsh sunlight, Dredd's Mega City One look more like a developing world metropolis than the hi-tech New York version from 2000AD.
Out goes the spikey hair, safety pins and kneepads, and in come hoodies and puffer jackets, sweaty singlets, gold chains and tracksuits. It's kids who can't pull their pants up properly who scare adults today, not the punk rockers of the 1970s, and Dredd draws a bead accordingly.
It's the future and it's urban, innit?
Dredd's Mega-City One is more low-rise than high
To me it looks wrong, too far from the source material, too close to the now. The cits here could be inserted without change into any movie set in late 20th Century LA - Latin America or Los Angeles, take your pick. The decor is low-tech. The concrete bare or shit-stained. It doesn't feel futuristic at all. The action's setting, a megastructure called Peach Trees - it should have been Howard Marx Block - is more housing estate than the house of tomorrow.
But it's perhaps a fair call on the part of the film's makers. Dredd's dystopia is less culturally centred than the one depicted in 2000AD, the better to appeal to audiences across the globe, many of whom will live in places not so very different to this. And the truth is, we've seen the 2000AD Mega-City One too often in movies since, from Blade Runner onwards. Neon washed, rain splashed cityscapes have been done to death.
Likewise, as a fan, I don't like Dredd's pared back uniform, a dust-covered black glorified flack jacket that, yes, might be more practical than a full Eagle and pads, but simply isn't iconic in the way the comic's uniform is. And with all the judges as grubby as the cits, it's hard to accept this is an elite force.
Perpspotting: punks out, hoodies in. Innit
At least Karl Urban never takes his helmet off - there's an in-shadow, back of the head shot early on - the crew were wise enough to understand that, like Batman's cowl and Spider-man's mask, Dredd's helmet is his face.
A colleague enthusiastically told me Dredd will take me right back to the 1970s, with the kind of punchy, violent stories they told back then. And they were only five pages long, too. At just shy of two hours, Dredd isn't long either, its welcome is not overstayed and then some the way last two Dark Knight movies were. Director Pete Travis keeps it nicely tight.
The plot, such as it is - cops isolated and hunted down; High Noon in a high-rise - is straightforward, providing a justification for the action and little else. There are plenty of things fans will regonise - 'Muties out' and Chopper graffiti; Lawgivers with multiple ammo types, and which explode, devastatingly, when used by a civilian - but the backstory is kept to the back. Viewers new to Dredd's world will get the gist without any who, what or why interrupting the action.
The boys and girls in blue, kind of
Which is handled by Travis with appropriate intensity, though none of the black humour that informs most comic book violence, Judge Dredd's in particular. This is one bloody movie, its 18 certificate justified. It's sure to be cut for domestic viewing.