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 grand 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:

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The Expendables 2 (2012)

Everyone likes to have a go at fan-fiction: where you pit two or more icons against one another to see who’d win. It’s like an elaborate, imaginary form of Top Trumps. Who’d win in a fight between a polar bear and a great white shark? Who’d win in a battle between Batman and Iron Man? Who’d win if my dad fought your dad? It’s true that most of these revolve around the “fight” premise, and many of them will never come to realisation; unless you have a particularly violent dad who just likes fighting. But 2012 is thus far shaping up to be the year that fan-fiction comes to realisation. We’ve had The Avengers, and seen Thor, Captain America and Iron Man fight one another on-screen, and now we bring in the Last Action Heroes, The Demolition Men, The Universal SoldiersThe Expendables.

If you’ve been living under a rock, or if you’ve spent the past few years trying to wrestle a polar bear towards Cape Town for the epic bear vs. shark fight, then The Expendables united some of the 1980’s and 1990’s biggest action heroes into one big gunfight back in 2010. You had Stallone and Lundgren combined with some of the genre’s biggest modern stars like Jet Li, Jason Statham and… erm… Randy Couture? The first outing for The Expendables was fun, but about as deep as a puddle. It had its moments but you sensed it was missing something. It had its big names, and its cameos from Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but it was lacking.

The Expandables 2 adds new names to the roster, such as Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme, as well as expanding on the roles for Willis and Schwarzenegger, to almost provide the quintessential who’s who of action heroes. But does it deliver where its predecessor tripped over itself? Most certainly.

Some of the who’s who of action movies are in The Expendables 2… as well as some just plain “who?” too.

Make no mistakes, this film is never going to be nominated for an Oscar, nor is it going to receive any awards from any magazine, but it’s a lot of fun. I’ll lay it down here that I was never an avid watcher of the 1980’s action classics; I know of them and their premise, but I in no way attest to having watched all of them. Therefore I’m in no way, shape or form a “fan-boy” of the 80’s. I was more a fan of every-man John McClane than the one man army that is John Rambo and his ilk. But I still really enjoyed this.

The premise of the film essentially revolves around Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his motley crew of mercenaries being tasked with recovering some data for US Government bod Mr. Church (Bruce Willis). Clearly, things don’t go as planned and the data falls into the hands of the villain with the inspired name Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), then boots are put to asses. The plot is nothing special, but I don’t think it’s intending to be that either. It’s a straight up action film – true popcorn fodder, and at this it excels. However, I take umbrage with critics saying that this is “excusable” because “it’s only an action movie”. Why can’t a film like this have a riveting plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat? Die Hard: With A Vengeance for instance had a great plot that played out as a thriller as much as an action movie. I don’t accept that cop-out excuse.

Pure fan service: The Terminator, Rambo and John McClane, united at last.

What you do have is a fun, self-referential, action-heavy movie sure to please fans of the genre. There are so many nods to the stars’ previous films, from Van Damme‘s roundhouse kicks to Chuck Norris‘ accompanying intro music that plays every time he appears. Hell, there’s even a reference to the played out Chuck Norris jokes we’re all familiar with. It’s all very tongue-in-cheek and genuinely fun to behold. Much like The Avengers I’d actually argue that some of the most entertaining parts are when the guns aren’t firing – it’s the back-and-forth and banter between the guys that is most engaging. It really looks like they’re all having fun with the script and relishing those wisecracks. Well, except for Statham who is given a number of “one liners”, but none of them hit the mark. Better luck next time Jason.

Although on paper the cast list appears to be too full, it’s good to see that not everyone is on the screen at all times, as this’d make for a horribly messy film. Some of the big names are reduced to cameos: Jet Li especially, who has about two minutes on-screen overall. However, I still don’t see the need for Randy Couture in the team. He’s a brilliant MMA fighter, but an actor he is not. And despite being part of the “core” group, he probably has five lines in the whole runtime. He’s probably the most expendable of The Expendables.

Can Stallone pull off the treble? Film Phage wants to see some of these guys in The Expendables 3…

If you’re unaware of the rumblings in Hollywood, then know that The Expendables 3 is a very real proposition and I’d anticipate it landing amidst explosions and gunfire sometime in 2014. Here’s hoping that Stallone can bring in some of the last remaining action players, such as Wesley Snipes and Steven Seagal, as well as other less obvious choices like Liam Neeson, Nic Cage and even Mel Gibson… Now that’s a film I’d love to see.

The Expendables 2 fires into cinemas with the expected combination of testosterone and guns. What was less expected was the self-referential humour and light-hearted quips that really made the film feel much more fluid and complete than its predecessor. Its only weakness is that the franchise is still lacking something in the way of cohesive story. I’m not looking for Memento with action heroes… just something a little different to spice things up. I know the franchise is capable of ratcheting it up that last notch.

Thankfully the film turns out more like Time Cop than Kindergarten Cop and I’m already baying for the announcement of the role-call for the inevitable third entry in the series.Then the fan-boys will get some more of their all time most wanted duels up on screen, which may not solve any of the “versus” arguments, but will no doubt entertain once again. And for the record Iron Man would hammer Batman… and my dad would also kick your dad’s ass. Fact.

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star