The first ghastly Dredd film starred Sylvester Stallone and, contrary to popular belief, this wasn't what made it a bad film.
Stallone, in fact, was a great choice for the character, a mostly unsmiling futuristic law enforcer with an immediately recognisable mouth.
The problem was that the film's makers, with absolutely no regard for the British comic book character found in issues of 2000 AD, wanted to keep showing that they had indeed cast Stallone, which is why they made Dredd take his helmet off very darned frequently. And Dredd ain't supposed to be no Iron Man.
The visually sensational new film, simply titled Dredd, keeps the helmet well in place but -- thanks to the awful, awful dialogues and the nondescript leading man Karl Urban and his need to often bark his lines with a self-seriousness that borders on a bad Nicolas Cage impression -- ends up being a hot mess of a film, a striking visual film with a singular, unsurprising plotline.
It's Diehard on steroids, pumped to the full with eye-electrification and amazing visuals courtesy cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire, Antichrist), but without an entertainingly foulmouthed hero at the centre.
Swap John McClane for a dull scowler in an admittedly awesome helmet and you have a general idea. (The comics, in case you were wondering, happen to be clever and ironic and highly entertaining. And in the book, Dredd's scowl is very, very Clint Eastwood.)
Set in a future where Judges wear helmets instead of stuffy wigs and dispense justice a la Robocop, the film shows us Dredd straddled with a rookie called Anderson, a gifted female psychic who dreams of becoming a judge someday. The two enter a 200-floor building to investigate a triple homicide, are locked in by the villainess in charge, and vastly outnumbered:
though blockbuster odds are a whole other thing than real life odds.
Olivia Thirlby does well as the girl, while Lena Headey -- who plays the lethal Ma-Ma and provides the film's finest visual moment at its finish -- looks like a seriously screwed up version of Robin from How I Met Your Mother. (I'm told Headey plays Cersei in the television adaptation of Game Of Thrones, so there you go, fanpeople.)
There's nothing wrong with a solid actioner, and this one is both very good looking and gets the 3D spot on, but is mired in tedium. A girl next to me in the preview screening kept ducking out of the theatre for various reasons, but there was nothing she ever really missed: you know what's going to happen, you watch it happen, and the lack of twists in itself may well be the only genuine surprise in this film.
It is a film of telegraphed gunplay and one further bogged down by dialogue where a corrupt Judge isn't content, during a gunfight, merely comparing the justice system to a meat-grinder, but goes on to describe what a meat-grinder does, complete with such insightful lines as "You go in human, you come out meat." Or something. I obviously paraphrase.
In comics there is something known as a splash-page. The comic book equivalent of a centerfold, this is a two-page spread that highlights an action scene, with many a character and explosion, and a whole lotta stuff going on at once, crammed into one wordless frame.
Once in a while, these are amazing. More often than not, they're gimmicky and make for a lazier part of the storytelling narrative, no matter how well drawn.
Dredd 3D is a splash page, excessive and glossy and uninspired. Justice will have to wait.