I've been surprised to discover that the success of the new Dredd 3D movie has meant an awful lot to me. Of course in 1995 I was disappointed, and I didn't even see the Stallone vehicle on the widescreen, but I was determined to see it properly in 2012 - widescreen, 3D, and with company who would 'get' the character and his world. I'm very happy to say that I succeeded there (especially enjoying the company and generosity of the above mentioned Mr Enright). I'm not happy, however, to observe that Dredd 3D was not so lucky, and hasn't succeeded.
The term 'flop' is pejorative, and I don't think it helps movies like Dredd, particularly when critical opinion has been largely very enthusiastic. It's fairer to say that it, like a few other technically high quality, faithful movies, failed to find its audience in sufficient number, which is another way to say it is by no means a bad movie, and definitely didn't deserve its fate of near cinematic obscurity with no hope for world-building sequels. Despite its niche market, B-list star and R18 rating, it deserved better, and hopefully on the home market will get it. Please don't download this movie, folks.
As I indicated earlier, Judge Joe Dredd is a tough hero to film. Aloof, implacable, and visually inhuman, there’s no clinch to his character. He’s less Robocop (whose narrative depends on the once-human Murphy rediscovering his humanity and reinventing himself) and more akin to the original Terminator – ready-made, singularly-driven and determined. An idea driven to an extreme, although not necessarily the extreme. I take some issue with the thesis that Dredd is ultimately a fascist character. An absolute, certainly, but his crusade isn't one of power or control for the sake of personal power; it’s control for the sake of control, or at the expense of the alternative, which is a certain chaos depicted by the nature of Mega City One (and especially as depicted in this movie). You can’t sympathise or identify with such a character, although you can still cheer him on, appealing as Dredd does to a certain repressed, visceral desire for absolute order. In that regard Dredd 3D and Karl Urban is pitch perfect – he’s far from robotic, but he never once cracks a smile, never stops working because the nature of the movie’s metropolis doesn't allow for that; as he says in the movie’s first reel, “it’s all deep end.” So I applaud Urban’s understanding of the role and his take on such a complicated character, as much as Alex Garland’s taking Judge Cadet Cass Anderson as the story’s ‘heart’. Easily and still the human face of the Justice Department, in the movie Anderson’s emotional journey contextualises the character of Dredd as much as her understanding of her place in the ugly reality of MC-1. That she ultimately rejects Dredd’s answer and likely assessment yet completes her training to literally walk away from the ordeal of Peach Trees Block completes her journey, while it’s Dredd’s awarded ‘pass’, granted when she’s well out of earshot, which furthers his. That kind of dynamic, not present in the comics, just further shames the 1995 pairing of Dredd and his female counterpart Hershey (whose equivalent status is more pronounced in the comic as well), and makes me sadder that we’ll not likely see Olivia Thirlby reprise the role or, indeed, see how the Dredd and Anderson relationship develops.
Finally, the villain of the piece, Lena Headey’s Ma-Ma. When I first heard there would be a female antagonist I immediately worried that the script would call for something campy and over the top – Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy, for example. This wouldn't have been absolutely out of the question for the comic, but wasn't something I wanted to see in a make-or-break movie. The character as written, and Headey’s reading of it, however, is something else. When you see more humanity in her turn as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones then the dead-eyed cold killer of the big screen outdoes all of that. Ma-Ma is just evil, a version of Dredd's inhumanity with a veneer of humanity.
In all, I like this movie more with every passing day, though the two of us had a lot to say on leaving the theatre. With the passing of time things have sunk in a little more. The violence is still an issue; I'm still of the opinion that launching an unfamiliar franchise on such an enormous and significant market as the US behind such a strong rating was hazardous. And I'm not entirely convinced that this level of violence is really true to the strip, which is smarter and as shocking, but in the glory days of the Seventies and Eighties knew when to turn the camera away from the head shots. That said, the gore I feared I'd see was largely implied rather than depicted, and the greatest feeling of unease for me was an eerie and utterly discomforting vertigo-inducing 3D glimpse down the atrium of Peach Trees and into hell itself. The 3D and Slo-Mo effects weren't for my fellow film-goer, but like a lot of other reviewers I was impressed, and didn't see it as being too gimmicky.
If you're at all curious, see this movie. You won't get another chance. And now I worry, as I did in 1995, that for Judge Dredd to have any film future in another re-imagining it may be via a real case of diminishing returns. As far as Dredd 3D goes, however, this was far from the case.