Dredd 3D (2012)

Dredd’s unimpressed with neutered adaptations.

It happens so often when Hollywood tries to convert a comic book from page to screen: they compromise. The visceral and often violent nature of some of the comic world’s big guns is lost in order to make that 12A / PG-13 rating, so that you can make more money from the kids dragging their parents along. Sure, you might be able to get away with it for Spider-Man or Superman, who are both “nice guys” really. But then take a hero like Wolverine, and the transition isn’t going to be as smooth, as this is a guy that would tear people in half in the comics. Literally. But on-screen he’s thus far been neutered somewhat, and lamentably I doubt 2013’s The Wolverine is going to alter that any time soon. So we now come to Dredd 3D: based on a comic that is never afraid to shy away from ultra-violence. But does the Judge get his due this time around? Well… it’s an 18-rated film isn’t it?

To many people, the mention of Judge Dredd will stir memories of a misfiring vehicle for Sylvester Stallone back in 1995. It wasn’t good. It wasn’t faithful. It was just an excuse to milk the machine that was Stallone‘s popularity. So techinically, yes, this is a reboot of what’s gone before. But you’d be missing out if you dismissed this film out of hand for that alone. It’s got a lot more in common with this year’s excellent The Raid: Redemption than it has with that 1995 hiccup.

It’s a chin off… who’s more authentic to you?

For the uninitiated, Dredd 3D follows the titular Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) as he dispenses justice on the future city of Mega City One. These “Judges” are effectively police who have been granted the powers of judge, jury and executioner should the situation merit it. The film follows Dredd over one day in which he has been charged with taking a rookie with psychic abilities under his wing (Olivia Thirlby) as they investigate a series of homicides at a colossal tower block. However, by doing so they stumble upon something much bigger and invoke the wrath of gang leader Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) who seals them in for extermination.

Now, does this remind you of anything? Anything quite recent? Perhaps a film I mentioned earlier in this review? Yes, The Raid: Redemption is undeniably similar in plot to Dredd 3D. Both involve police being locked in a skyscraper and having to take down a gang-leader at the top of the tower. It’s actually quite alarming when you realise this. If they weren’t both in production simultaneously then you’d swear one was borrowing liberally from the other. However, don’t let this detract you from just how good Dredd 3D is. It’s different in enough ways to appeal in its own unique way. I might even go as far as saying that I preferred this to The Raid: Redemption! I’m just a sucker for a gritty, grimey cyber-punk setting with an arsenal of high-calibre weapons on offer, as opposed to The Raid: Redemption‘s (utterly gob-smacking) hand-to-hand fight scenes.

But let’s go back to a point I raised earlier: how faithful is this to the source material? Whilst you’re never going to please every fan there is, I’m happy with how this turned out. Dredd 3D eschews normal conventions and gets graphic with its violence. People will be skinned, heads caved in and yes, there will be blood. It’s great to see director Pete Travis really embraced the ultra-violence of the comics and ran with it. I wonder if this would have happened had Sony, Universal or Fox had the rights to Judge Dredd. I doubt it.

With regards to the acting, you can crack as many skulls as you like, but if the acting is weak it’s going to achieve nothing. I’m happy to report that the acting is solid throughout, with all actors seeming to embrace their roles. Much has been made of Karl Urban‘s chin in the media; owing to the fact that he never removes his helmet. How can an actor act in this way you ask? Well, Tom Hardy did fabulous without half of his face visible, and Urban does a similarly great job. He churns out wry one-liners and like Hardy‘s Bane is an imposing presence. You see him on-screen and accept that he is the Judge – a man to be feared if you’re up to no good. Similarly, the supporting cast of Olivia Thirlby (Juno), Wood Harris (The Wire) and Lena Headey (300, Game of Thrones) are all great at embodying their roles. What I like is that none of these actors are huge Hollywood icons; they’re essentially unknowns in the grandĀ scheme of things. And this works in the film’s favour, as we have no pre-formed opinions.

And I can’t pass judgement without talking about the visuals. Whilst they’re nowhere near the level of eye candy seen in Total Recall, they’re done very well. The film was mostly shot in Cape Town, South Africa, and Mega City One was modelled on the metropolis of Johannesburg (let’s try not to draw any parallels between crime-ridden Mega City One and Johannesburg though!) The film looks grimey, dark and oppressive. This is probably why it doesn’t look as bright and vibrant as Total Recall‘s cityscapes; it’s not meant to. Fans of Zack Snyder‘s penchance for slow motion will also be in luck, as there’s enough of this in the film. Thankfully it’s not overused though and has a legitimate reason for being there: the drug known as “Slo-Mo”, which makes the user feel like time is passing incredibly slowly. A clever idea.

The Phage: I am the law.

Ultimately, if you can look past Dredd 3D‘s similarities to The Raid: Redemption in terms of plot, then I think you’re in for a treat. In fact, I urge you to try not to compare them to one another, as they’re both great pieces of film-making that have unfortunately landed in cinemas in the same year. The film’s take on a dystopian, crime-ridden future is a compelling one that doesn’t relent during its running time. I felt engaged the whole way through, thanks to the gripping portrayal of Judge Dredd by Karl Urban. The film is quite minimalistic and delivers relentlessly. He is the law. All hail.

And if you’re a fan of Judge Dredd, action films, ultra-violence or seeing an accurate portrayal of a comic book, then look no further than this. The current trend with comic book movies is to make them “gritty” and “real”. Despite Dredd 3D‘s futuristic setting, I’d say it achieved this aim better than other films that have aimed squarely for this goal. So, Mr. Jackman, it’s over to you: will we be getting the Wolverine we’re all baying for next year? One that’ll finally use those claws in the way that the comics intended, or are we staring down the barrel of another pale imitation of the one they call Logan? So bub, what’s it gonna be?

Phage Factor:

Total Recall (2012)

Forget me not.

We’ve so often been told what the future’s going to look like that I’m beginning to think it’s going to be pretty boring when I first get in my flying car. I’ll have seen everything there is to do in one by then. And I’m still waiting on the hoverboard that Back To The Future promised me would arrive this year. One thing I’ve yet to see in the future is a device for implanting memories into my head, so this is exciting. Total Recall , set in that familiar future that looks a bit like Tokyo at night time tells me it could go horribly wrong though. Damn!

Name sound as familiar as the setting? Yes, this is the big-budget reboot of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle. This is a movie much beloved by many… but me? I’ve never seen it. OK, lambast me all you like, but as I said in my Expendables 2 review, I was never really a fan of movies from that era. That and I was a bit young at the time to care too much. Does this influence my review? Well, it may do, as I can look at this movie objectively with a clean slate and not be sucked into the Reboot Zone debate (again and again)

Colin Farrell couldn’t ever hope to replicate Arnie’s not at all over-the-top facial expression…

This incarnation of Total Recall takes place in the late 21st Century where us Brits have seemingly survived a toxic holocaust to create the United Federation of Britain (UFB), and through some amazing feat of engineering, have linked ourselves with Australia (called “The Colony”) by drilling through the middle of the Earth. The Colony is essentially the ghetto of the UFB. A bit like Australia is the UK’s poor cousin… with beaches… and surfer girls and guys… and better weather. Damn. The plot revolves around Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) – a drone of The Colony who’s fed up with his hum-drum life. So he goes to Rekall – a memory creation company to spice things up by getting some espionage memories implanted. And naturally, things go wrong and he finds himself on the run from the Government. Cue a spy story with lots of twists and turns.

It may sound a bit confusing, but the film copes with the plot’s convulsions well. What’s more confusing is why in future Britain and Australia no-one speaks with a British or Australian accent. Seemingly, in less than 100 years, we’re all going to speak with a US accent. Even the Irish Colin Farrell and British Kate Beckinsale lose their native tongue. But we are not to reason why…

“Fess up Farrell!! Where the HELL have you hidden all the British, Irish and Australian people?! And stop with that fake yankee accent will ya?!”

Visually, the film is a treat for the eyes. I know the future will be dark and neon-tinged, but these future countries look like Tokyo… on smack. A true cyber-punk sheen has been applied ala Bladerunner, or if you’re into video games, Deus Ex. The only gripe I have with the visuals is Len Wiseman‘s (director) obsession with screen flares. These are digitally generated, fake lens flares. They’re done ad nauseum and I have no idea what they accomplish. Some would argue “to look nice”, but by flare 15, at ten minutes into the film, I was over them. I’m also not entirely sure what to make of a scene where we see Farrell drop into the London we’re all familiar with, complete with wheeled cars that look remarkably 2012… If someone could chime in in the comments and clarify it, that’d be grand.

Get used to that facial expression. There’s a lot of it!

What of the acting? No real complaints here. Farrell is a bankable actor in an action film. The genre doesn’t really require an actor to run the gamut of emotions over a film’s running time. Similarly, Beckinsale and Jessica Biel are serviceable in their roles. There’s nothing outstanding about either, and Beckinsale‘s heavily made-up eyes in “mean girl stare” mode got old pretty fast. Although she comes across as a fine action woman (and who wouldn’t after three unnecessary Underworld sequels), you can’t help but feel she’s becoming a very one-dimensional actress, much in the same way as Mila Jovovich. And both of their husbands direct the money-making franchises in which they star… A coincidence or correlation?

And finally… what of my old friend, the plot? Overall: great concept. The premise, as I’m sure you’re aware if you’ve seen the trailers / the original, is that Quaid comes to question who he is. Is he an outlaw? Or is he still in fact sitting in the memory implantation machine at Rekall? Make no mistake, this is no new plot tool. Films like Vanilla Sky and eXistenZ have both employed the tactic and The Matrix opened with the premise of reality vs. illusion. But it’s done well. I found myself constantly looking out for signs to try and figure out whether he was or wasn’t in reality before the film revealed the answer.

Having said that, the final act started to feel forced and it appeared that the plot had run out of steam but was being dragged kicking and screaming to a longer run time. It’s here that the film fell down slightly for me, and no amount of lens flares could startle me into remaining alert. It finished satisfyingly enough, but that final road was an arduous one to trek.

With my inability to compare this version of Total Recall to what has gone before, I’ve got to say that I enjoyed what I saw. It’s a futuristic action / thriller – nothing more, nothing less. The first 2/3 of the film make for a great cinematic experience; albeit one with some rather one dimensional female leads. Although Farrell probably isn’t an Arnie, I don’t think that was his, or Len Wiseman‘s, intention to begin with.

However, if you’re really attached to the 1990 original, I don’t know what the film offers for you. Maybe you’d benefit from a trip to Rekall, so you can have those cherished memories dashed, or at least temporarily forgotten. And whilst you’re there can you book me in? Not to forget this version of Total Recall… it’s just that I don’t want to keep clinging to these hopes of a hoverboard popping up in the next three months.

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star