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I wasn't particularly caring about seeing Dredd until the last lot of trailers kicked in - because, let's face it, I am old enough to remember the Stallone abomination of the 90s. And it was.. well, Dredd. And I'm not the target audience for 2000AD, whatever.

But the trailers... First off, La Roux never gets old (I'm still obsessed with the obscure game trailer that used another random mix of that song, because it's always awesome.).  And then there was the slo-mo... Which was shiny and pretty, and hey, I've sat through nearly everything Tarsem's done quite happily because of the crazy pretties, so no excuse really.  And honestly, it sold itself really really well - simple story, great talent involved doing what they do best (Karl Urban beating people to a pulp? check! Lena Headey being head bitch? double check!)

And as it turns out, I was really in the mood to see something like this.  Last weekend's double bill of Total Recall (good fun, if a bit meh, and some batshit crazy concepts of the laws of physics) and Expendables 2.... well, no, really, I can't believe anyone professionally wrote that script and got paid for it. Or that Simon fucking Con Air West directed it. Or that any of the cast were ever highly paid professional megastars at any point, whose films I used to mostly quite enjoy, because it felt like an excrutiating very expensive panto and I can't believe I stayed to the end. Ahem.

Dredd, though... I'm so impressed it lived up to the trailers. It was beautifully made, bone crunchingly gory (I have never seen so many bodily fluids fly through the air in slow motion in my entire life), and actually interesting stuff. It took a lot of risks - going for the 18 cert and sticking with it, when Chris Nolan is getting away with 12As; Karl Urban spending the entire film wearing the helmet, oddly enough - but it has that rare ring of authenticity to it.  Halfway through it suddenly dawned on me that this was showing the same scrappy enthusiasm about the source material as Avengers does; the kind of heady fanboying that infects the audience (if you're me, anyhoo. Lots of the reviews don't seem to get this, which is sad. Having said that, I hit a new record of 5 cinema viewings for Avengers, so hey).

What ruined a lot of reviews was the default position of "it's got the same plot as The Raid! Shame that came out first!" Well, hey, The Raid was awesome - bone-crunchingly impressive as a martial arts showcase, with the crazy headspace of a Welshman making an Indonesian beat-em-up.  It's just that, if you've actually watched The Raid, the genre focus is so different to Dredd that there are only the barest moments of comparison.

 Raid is about a guy being sent into a situation he doesn't understand, who just so happens to have mad fighting skillz that means he has a chance of surviving it when it all goes to hell, with a little soapy melodrama chucked in to heighten the tension.  It works like gangbusters, mostly in a whirl of fists and feet and bullets and heads being put through walls, plus the lead is scrappily adorable, with a lot to lose if he fails.

Dredd is altogether a different beast - it's the fun of watching an unstoppable force hit an unmovable object, and seeing what's left when the dust settles (gorgeously, in super slo-mo).  Dredd knows exactly what he's doing; he doesn't panic, doesn't lose faith in his own skill set, and will not stop so long as he's still breathing.  He has a fair bit in common with the Terminator, on occasion - no background necessary (and there are a couple of scenes that nod at the T1 similarities, which entertained me no end).  

We have Anderson being all cute rookie with shaggy hair and a very nifty sideline in brain melting for the emotional side of things. And that's all it needs.

I was so won over because it ends up being such an elegantly-made film - the plot twists as much around Anderson's first-day-on-the-job hesitant decision making progress (do love Dredd telling her how 20% of new Judge's don't survive their first day - way to inspire!) as Dredd's normal ineffable reaction to enforcing the law. There is nothing more to it then Dredd gets saddled with assessing Anderson, she decides they investigate the Peach Trees murders; they make an arrest rather than another execution and Ma-Ma locks them in to take them out. Things spiral, mostly in slow-mo. Things that would be spelled out in less clever films are left to be subtle here (leaving more time for bone-crunching, obv).  It's been pared down and it's all the stronger for it, so kudos to Alex Garland.  Methinks he's a Dredd fan; Karl Urban certainly seems to be, and it's strangely fun watching him determinedly re-set his mouth back to the trademark scowl every time he's forced to talk.

So, basically, I kinda loved it.


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Jennifer Howell

July 2015

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