Thursday, 27 November 2014

Dredd to Judge

You remember that one time I wrote about buddy cop movies and noted how such movies almost exclusively paired up two guys even in more modern incarnations like Hot FuzzThe Heat is one of the few exceptions as it turned things around by introducing a pair of female cops, and before that you have the TV series Cagney and Lacey. Either way they still seem to be very gender-exclusive. You'll see plenty of white/black pairings but very rarely any male/female buddy cops, at least not any good ones. The closest things I had to exceptions were The Enforcer (which might have worked if not for that horrendously disappointing finale, and they didn't insist on putting her in heels) and Theodore Rex (in which Whoopi Goldberg's male partner is a talking dinosaur... I SWEAR THIS REALLY HAPPENED!)

Well, I might just have finally found a good male/female buddy cop film, among other things in Dredd. I've never read the Judge Dredd comics on which it was based and know little beyond the extreme basics of its premise. What I do know is the character was completely botched thanks to the work of Sylvester Stallone who made infamous the line "YOU BETRAYED THE LRAW". After going in to see 2012's Dredd for the last week of one of my classes, all I knew was a vague idea of its premise and assurances from people who had seen it that this would be better than the Stallone version. After having to sit through Rambo: First Blood Part II for the same class, I quickly realized that "better than Stallone" wasn't a very high standard to meet. Fortunately, it didn't disappoint.

Dredd was a pretty fitting way to end a class about action films, not just from a chronological perspective (we looked at the history and development of action films) but also because it combined a lot of concepts we'd discussed over course of the semester (and by extension on this blog). Urban vigilantism is in there for sure; imagine if all cops acted like Dirty Harry and you get a pretty clear sense of the setting. Even with that change in tone, Dredd still has to take the law into his own hands for much of the film if for slightly different reasons than usual (being cut off from police headquarters rather than fed up with their bureaucracy). Also bringing in some of the "gun fu" action, the climax does have a bit of resemblance in part to that of John Woo's Hard Boiled, though Dredd is still a far better movie.

The premise of the heroes being trapped in a tower overrun by gangsters is reminiscent of the "Die Hard on an X" formula popularized in the late 80's and continuing into the 90's (the villain is even dispatched similarly to Hans Gruber), but it also breaks a lot of rules about that same trend. As I've discussed earlier, "Die Hard on an X" films generally center on a single protagonist working to outwit a group of terrorists who have hijacked a confined environment (i.e. a mall, an airplane, a boat, etc.) and generally emphasize outdated masculine values. With perhaps Red Eye as a partial exception, the heroes of these movies are almost always male.

In Dredd? Not only are the conventions subverted by having two characters working together instead of one working alone, but Anderson also serves as a co-protagonist and is far from being a hostage. Even when she does get captured, she doesn't sit around waiting for her male co-star to come to the rescue. She tricks her executioner into blowing his own arm off and proceeds to easily escape on her own. Even better is that when a corrupt cop tries to trick her into letting her guard down, Anderson sees right through the deception within seconds. In fact, Anderson ends up saving the life of Judge Dredd. Also great is that she has an unusual psychic ability and she is constantly taking advantage of it. We got a strong female lead here... but wait a minute what's this? There's another one.

Yes, I couldn't go through discussing the women in this film without bringing up the final boss. This is a women with an extensive amount of power and who knows how to use it, which should hardly be surprising considering she is played by Lena Headey A.K.A. Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones. When I say that she has power, I don't just mean she's a femme fatale who is good as seducing men. I mean she is in control of everything, with full command over a gang made up primarily of men. Such a display of power was a refreshing change.

What's worse than pissing off Cersei Lannister? Pissing off Cersei Lannister when she has access to three miniguns.

The Dirty Harry parallels are numerous throughout Dredd. Aside from the lead character himself, the four corrupt judges resemble the four young officers who serve as the antagonists of Magnum Force. More prominently is that the dynamic between Dredd and Anderson is reminiscent of what was attempted in The Enforcer. Anderson's introductory scene in which Dredd admits his concern about working with her calls to mind the scene where Harry Callahan first meets inspector Kate Moore. Similarly their relationship grows from her tagging along to please their superiors to Dredd gradually coming to respect her. Even the climax in which Anderson is wounded bears some resemblance to Moore being shot. Fortunately, Dredd allowed Anderson to wear practical gear instead of forcing her to do chase scenes in heels and skirts and she didn't have a pointless and contrived death scene shoved into a disappointing climax.

Slow motion is also something that's been really big in action movies lately, and here it is used to interesting effect. It was used a lot in John Woo's early action movies and later popularized by The Matrix, but what is really odd here is that it has a diegetic quality not usually present. The slow motion sequences literally have an in-universe explanation (a major part of the story is a drug that causes people to perceive the world in slow motion). This leads to a curious approach in a lot of the action scenes. They will frequently allow us to see the violence as through we are junkies getting high on this drug and frequently jarring us by abruptly bringing returning to a more normal speed. This film is definitely not for the faint of heart, as the slow motion allows the violence to be seen in extremely gory detail.

The character of Dredd also has some resemblances to the hardbodied action heroes of the 1980's. This is the type of character that becomes less a human and more a machine that may need maintenance. Hardbodied heroes rarely get injured and when they do, it takes little to put them back in action. Dredd shows himself to be slightly more vulnerable when he takes a bullet and has to be saved by Anderson, but once he's safe all it takes is some quick first aid to become a formidable threat again. Dredd does have a machine-like personality in how strictly he adheres to his rules, and the fact that we learn little about him.

Unlike Stallone's version, who couldn't let his handsome face be obscured for too long, Dredd never removes his helmet meaning we never get a good look at his face (which I've been told fits more in line with the comic). We also find out nothing of Dredd as a person. There is not so much as a single hint to his backstory or personal life. He is a character who seems to be programmed for the job, strictly following the rules he has been designed to obey and incapable of breaking them. This in turn makes Anderson a perfect foil as the inexperienced rookie cop who appears more human insofar as she actually displays emotion. It ties back to the buddy cop formula in an odd way, as Dredd puts a dark twist on the "by-the-book" cop while Anderson seems to be the "wild" cop by comparison.

Story-wise, things could get a bit disorienting at first, but it won me over by the end. Judge Dredd might just be the ultimate action movie; every major subgenre of action (or at least as many as would fit): urban westerns, "Die Hard on an X", buddy cops, "gun fu", hardbodied heroes, "wise-guy" heroes. You name it, it's in here, all rolled up neatly into one tidy little bundle of exciting action and suspense you won't want to miss. Dredd is definitely a lot better than the Stallone film, but it is also a very good film in its own right. Certainly worth seeing if you can take the gore and a little bit of disorientation.


  1. Dredd is way, way better than the Stallone version. That said, there is a more recent movie that Dredd is highly reminiscent of: The Raid: Redemption. The plot is basically the same - cops go into an apartment building run by gangsters and try to fight their way up to the top floor where the boss is. The difference is that Dredd adds the females (there are almost none in The Raid) and after a gun-heavy first twenty minutes or so, focuses on martial arts. Oh, and believe it or not, Dredd is less gory. Still, Dredd is highly enjoyable and I hope they get to make a sequel. Unfortunately, it didn't perform as well as hoped at the box office. I've got my fingers crossed, anyway. Good review.

    1. I never actually saw The Raid, nor was it brought up in my classes so I'm not really in any position to discuss it. However from what I understand of The Raid's basic premise I can see where there might be some similarities. There probably is a bit of influence from that one too mixed in with the "Die Hard on an X" formula and all the other action movie styles that are blended together.