Back in September, I read Genevieve Valentine’s write-up/review of Dredd:
The most unrelenting thing about Dredd is that beneath the monosyllabic one-liners and the jet-takeoff sound effects, there’s a nihilistic core that becomes its own silent protagonist, a move that both raises the movie a notch above some more oblivious SF actionfests… and renders the film a study in bleakness.
When I finally sat down to watch it on Thursday night, as the culmination of a seven-hour skiffy film marathon – after The Dark Knight Rises and Resident Evil: Retribution – it blew me away. Especially in contrast to Dark Knight, with its hype and massive budget and (intermittent) acclaim.
(Let us not speak of Resident Evil: Retribution. I had not expected much by way of logic or plot from the franchise’s fifth installment, but I expected more than we got – and what we got did not even string its action-scenes together with a minimum of coherence. Also, the black guy dies. Pointlessly.)
My response to The Dark Knight Rises is, essentially: WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT BRUCE WAYNE’S MANPAIN? Or Alfred’s, or, for that matter, Det. John Blake’s. Visually, thematically, in character and artistic terms, it’s incoherent: it doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up. There are some visually striking scenes and excellent point-counterpoint of noise and silence, but at one and the same time it is trying to be too clever and not nearly clever enough. And Christian Bale is not strong enough, in terms of presence, to sell a descent-into-torment-and-triumphant-return – especially not when Dark Knight doesn’t know whether or not it’s about PEOPLE OF GOOD WILL (read: cops) TAKING BACK THE CITY, or a single masked avenger’s crusade against another, worse, masked avenger. It does not develop character, is what I’m saying – in fact, the only character who has a discernible arc is Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle/Catwoman. Hathaway does brilliantly with the part – her rueful expression, half-defiant, half-apologetic, as she tells Bale’s Batman she’s deliberately led him into a trap to save herself is entirely marvellous – but the film doesn’t actually give much to Kyle/Catwoman. Her arc takes place in the background, the overlooked places: the cat burglar who wants to leave her record behind her and start fresh, unwillingly persuaded first to assist Bane and his gang of psychopaths and then to assist Bruce Wayne/Batman to stop the GIANT NUCLEAR BOMB…
…I’d watch a film of the events of The Dark Knight Rises from the perspective of Hathaway’s Kyle. It might be a much more interesting, less ultimately predictable affair.
(So our takeaway: pointless manpain and fascist/ubermensch ideals? DO NOT WANT, sez I.)
But Dredd. Dredd knows it’s a film set in a fascist dystopia. Dredd is an SFnal shoot-em-up, but also – as Valentine says – a study in bleakness. It doesn’t present a contrast between law, as personified by the Judges, and chaos in the form of criminals: under the surface slick of words, there is no contrast. Just two competing systems of power-maintenance-through-terror, meeting through the middle ground of violence.
Stylistically gorgeous, pared-down, excellent in its characterisation of its women – it doesn’t quite pass the Bechdel test but it’s far more feminist that Dark Knight, which does, and gives its women much more room – it has a coherent core. It’s dystopic and everyone in the film knows it, but it also has empathy for every single one of its characters: even for Kay, the unrepentant drug-dealing murdering sexually violent henchman of Ma-Ma – to me, it seems the film characterises him as having made himself into the hardest, nastiest bastard he can be, because otherwise he’d be victim, not victimiser. (On the other hand, the fact that he’s the only person of colour with any depth of characterisation at all is rather disappointing.)
Lena Headey is brilliant as Ma-Ma, world-weary druglord, and so is Olivia Thirlby as Anderson, the rookie Judge that Karl Urban’s Dredd has for her assessment – her last chance to make it as a Judge – when they get trapped in Ma-Ma’s locked-down super-slum. Thirlby’s character has the shiny idealism scraped off in the course of the ever-mounting body-count… but retains enough to say, bitterly, on letting one criminal – coerced into his crimes – go: “Maybe that’s the one difference I will make.”
Anyway. A film I really enjoyed. One out of three ain’t bad, right?
PS: I’ve never read the comics for either Batman or Dredd. So there’s that.