jencat: (brain)
[personal profile] jencat
Obviously I do watch other films. Like, somewhere around 60 films at the cinema last year (that's not even counting multiple trips to see Avengers. And Dredd. And TDKR) because I splurged on LFF quite a lot. So the fact that I'm still going on about Dredd after nearly six months is, um, significant?

See, it even puzzles me... I really shouldn't be the target audience for this film. And yet I apparently am, given that I adore nasty, gory ultraviolent films where the main characters are relatively bad people trying to survive ('bad' is necessarily relative, but all the protagonists have at least attempted to kill several people) but what they're trying to survive is even worse; and there's a central couple who are hyper-competent people but it's really not about them getting together at the end. And they tend to have lots of guns. Going by this standard, I am expecting great things of Pacific Rim, which also features giant freaking robots. It took me a while to work out that Dredd actually falls into the same mini-niche as Pitch Black(even if Fry doesn't quite make it; she also doesn't quite manage to kill the rest of the cast in the crash either though),and one of my all-time favourites, Predators.

Yeah, I really shouldn't be the target audience for that one either, but now I've actually lost count of the number of times I've happily watched Adrian Brody and Alice Braga running around a jungle expertly shooting nasty aliens. Predator is massively fucked up and I kind of adore it (you do of course have to ignore the massively reductive racial stereotyping and general ickiness of most the characters, but it features some wonderfully odd conversations along with being pacey and snappy, deliciously horrific and OMG Lawrence Fishburn's fantastically nutty cameo is worth watching for alone).  Royce wouldn't be interesting without Isabel acting as a counterbalance, and Isabel's just too freaking non-psychopathic to survive there quite so long without him to watch her back. So there.

Pitch Black even has three interesting female characters heading it up. Ok, two of them get killed off to prove various points, and the third one is a kid who spends most of the film pretending to be a boy and idolising a psychopathic serial-killer, but hey - one of them is also Aussie Aeryn Sun! Obviously Vin Diesel completely steals practically every scene he pops up in, because he's a sneaky bastard like that, but he wouldn't have nearly as much traction if he wasn't up against Radha Mitchell's conflicted pilot. I mean, she starts the film by trying to kill the entire rest of the cast in a vain attempt to survive the crash she's piloting - and nearly succeeds. And then has to spend the rest of the film acting like she hasn't tried to sacrifice everyone to save herself, right before the delightful hammerhead dinosaur things decide to finish the job for her, and then she has to freaking save them all over again.

The notions of 'killer' and 'coward' are bandied around an awful lot between Fry and Johns and Riddick, before the whole junkie thing comes out - and yes, Fry is a coward who then proceeds to make amends for the entire rest of the film and save everybody else several times over. I mean, she could have been allowed to survive it, but it wouldn't have been nearly as powerful (that ending was in my head for weeks afterwards).  Johns is just, well, a chicken-shit junkie red-herring designed to distract us from Riddick's innate awesomeness by being all blond and heroic-looking and initially nice to Fry. And Riddick... well. He spends the first half of the film apparently finding cool places to pose freakily in the background, and then the rest of the time being an unbearably cool smart-arse. His redemption is pretty heavily won at the cost of Fry (WE DO NOT SPEAK OF THE SEQUEL) but it's Fry's choice, this time, to not make somebody else a sacrifice to keep herself safe (even if they are Riddick). She doesn't necessarily throw herself in the path of the monster as such, but she does go out knowing it's a risk - and it's mostly because Riddick tried to make her choose to leave the others behind already, and she nearly caved (and then they mud-wrestled).

I'm trying to think of more films that fit, but nothing quite springs to mind. And Dredd, which I've been watching pretty much every weekend since the DVD arrived, to the point where I don't even know how many times I've seen it. Lots, basically. Cos I... kinda know the dialogue off by heart, hell yeah. I mean, I enjoyed Avengers when I watched it for the... 8th time the other day, but there are moments that drag. Dredd has no downtime at all; no sequences when your attention wanders off. It's not perfectly made but it's as damn near as makes no difference.

This time around was handy for highlighting plot-holes - mostly, there is no way Dredd knows Anderson is coming to save him (unless he's secretly psychic too, and in denial, and that's why he never takes the helmet off... ho hum).  Also, there is no way Anderson should still be alive that long after multiple bad guys give direct orders to kill her and then kinda lose focus and wander off to do something else (I blame Slo-mo, personally. It's not remotely conducive to being efficient at running a drugs empire).  I mean, possibly this delay is supposed to be significant - her powers keep her alive when they do try and kill her (knowing Kay was going to use her gun, and would obviously fail; not being fooled by the Bad Judge) but she can't do anything but wait until they try.  Which always leads me back to wondering whether Ma-Ma leaves her alive deliberately in some way - or at least spares her somehow.  I probably wouldn't think that if Ma-Ma was a nasty male druglord rather than being an junkie ex-hooker drug queen bitch (and Kay makes a point of saying that they have done things like that in the past, however much of that is true, because honestly it sounds a bit like psych-out bullshit).  I have read elsewhere that, theoretically, Kay holding Anderson hostage with her own gun shouldn't have worked what with the whole DNA match thing (um, how does that work when they're wearing gloves all the time?!) but I'm pretty sure both that he's holding her hand over the trigger, and also that the gigantic explosion that followed the DNA check failing would have been right next to her head... (and we only let people's heads explode in this film when they're perps or Bad Judges).

The other thing that I still can't quite be sure about is the end, where Dredd makes such a point of not telling Anderson she's passed himself. I mean, the scene just before that he was patching up her bullet wound (and she already saved his life, all of her own accord), and then he lets her storm off in a major huff because - I think - he's still seriously considering not passing her. Except, while he's talking to the Chief Judge after that, he's also watching Anderson refuse medical treatment. Seriously, she's storming past the paramedics telling them to back off, and we already saw it was it a fairly substantial injury (also, those field kits are awesome considering the amount of running around they both did with serious stomach wounds). And that's the point where he says she's passed. It's slightly worrying how adorable I find that, because I'm also pretty sure Dredd wouldn't bother with the paramedics either (because professional stitching up is for wimps).  Whether he's deciding that she cares that much about being a Judge, or is finally impressed by seeing someone else be as fanatical about something as he is, I'm still not sure. It's left so ambiguous as to whether he's the Judge approaching her in the final scene, and while it would be a total cliché having it end with them leaving together the same way they arrived, it would have made a nice progression. But then, the point of Dredd isn't that he grows as a person - it's managing to keep him exactly the same, still doing terrible things in the name of what he believes in, and still have the audience root for him despite that. The only difference now is that Anderson has maybe found a middle ground to enforce justice her own, slightly more merciful, way, and that he's managing now to be flexible enough to let her do that as a Judge. It's a small concession, but a concession nonetheless.

And that's pretty much the same arc Royce gets in Predators, no? Literally the only difference is that he comes back for Isabel (who's too busy being noble to notice a serial killer putting the moves on her, so she gets out of the film with her integrity intact) and, other than now being slightly bothered that she doesn't die, Royce is still exactly the same as when he landed on that planet.  I mean, Riddick gets a whole arc and goes all comparatively mushy at the end of Pitch Black (mostly because he's getting confused with what the point of Fry's character arc is - which is to redeem herself, not guilt him into ditching the dark side entirely).

Watching Dredd this many times makes it oddly more interesting - seeing how the character dynamics break down so cleanly into Dredd vs MaMa and Kay vs Anderson. It's... almost odd how little interest they have in going up against the other. Even when Dredd is interrogating Kay, it's all about getting to MaMa; when MaMa has Anderson, she certainly doesn't go out of her way to make sure she's killed off quickly - and she doesn't even talk to her once. No gloating directed at her at all - in fact, the only thing she does say in Anderson's presence is that she's not getting tortured or raped before they kill her, which, whatever reason she does it for, is probably the nicest thing MaMa does in the entire film for anyone.  Kay never once even tries to go up against Dredd (which is logical, when he's got a small blonde rookie girl to intimidate instead), but it's pretty apparent that the only reason he even  gets to her at all initially is that Anderson is momentarily vulnerable after a small crisis of conscience over executing Cathy's babydaddy - and she turns all of it right back at him later, weirdly enough, using MaMa. And at no point is MaMa remotely impressed with Kay - she mostly keeps telling him he's fucked up and wishing him dead.

The one person she does rely on, of course, is Caleb. He's officially one of my two favourite minor characters, along with Exposition Paramedic. Exposition Paramedic doesn't even have a name as far as I'm concerned, but he does have all the best lines. No, really. He makes delivering gigantic chunks of backstory vastly entertaining (our plot, in a nutshell, is mostly don't fuck with the MaMa Clan, after all), and he even manages to die in service of the plot (putting a bullet in his head is the first proof that the Bad Judges, er, do what they say on the can.)

I kind of love Caleb - he seems so practical and calm and downright sane for an evil henchman. None of the other evil henchman even get names - even the Benicio Del Toro lookalike guarding her while she has a bath in the first scene. To digress, I'm not even mentioning how downright weird that bath scene is, actually - for an ex-hooker, she's not presented in a remotely sexual way. She's dressed in normal, non-revealing clothes; wearing the remnants of old make-up, and totally surrounded by men the entire time, who are all crazily loyal to her, and (not-Freudian at all, not one little bit) all basically call her Ma. A totally fucked-up, fucking scary mother who will castrate you with her teeth and gouge your eyes out with her thumbs, but a mother figure all the same.

Caleb actually seems constantly worried about her - rather than scared of her, like everyone else is. He talks to her like she's... fragile, almost? They have a weirdly endearing partnership when you watch closely - she doesn't remotely speak to him like she does to Kay, and when she takes over the mini-gun, he's holding it steady for her, and they're both enjoying themselves immensely - it's the most you see either of them smile in the entire film. The intro scene, where Exposition Paramedic is explaining how her trademark is extreme violence, doesn't actually show her being violent personally (even if we certainly see it later, in other contexts). At that point, she's cut up and spitting blood and has just got what sounds like fairly justified revenge on her ex-pimp - and Caleb appears over her shoulder to pull the trigger. It's a pretty clear division of labour.  It does seem like Dredd knows, when he picks Caleb out of all the doomed henchman to chuck over the balcony in front of her, that he would be the one that would actually hurt her to lose. And her face when she sees him die is the most emotional she gets in the entire film, given that she's hiding behind the junkie disaffection through everything else - even when she's about to die herself, she doesn't look nearly as bothered as she does when she realises he's gone.

And the bit where Dredd looks most affected? When they're stuck out on the skateboarding ledge, having blown up a wall to get out there, and he admits they have to go back inside. He looks far more sorry for Anderson at that point than he does when she actually gets shot.  No, really, there's an actual expression on his face and everything...
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Jennifer Howell

July 2015

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