Sunday, 9 September 2012
The most arresting thing about 2000 AD's Judge Dredd is its sheer lack of remorse. A flagrant disregard for human life is everywhere in the future shocked Dredd strips. Panels bulge with wide-eyed citizens choking on experimental riot gas; crowds of featureless people tumble off insanely high super structures to their splattering, inky demise. Living in Mega City One is dangerous. It isn't just polluted and depressed, it's listless and insane. With zero job opportunities available, most citizens means of expression tend violently criminal, with Dredd and the Judge system positioned as the overwhelming, incorruptible response.
1995's Judge Dredd tried to position the character as a wronged knight locked in a dynastic struggle. Dredd is nothing so rote. He isn't something so specifically heroic, he's violent, borderline cruel. In film terms he's something closer to an exploitation cinema hero. Dredd is like a summation of Clint Eastwood's 60s and 70s career trajectory - the taciturn individualism of the Spaghetti Westerns married to the laconic fascism of the Dirty Harry franchise. Sprinkle in some Death Race 2000, and the violent, compromised heroes of 1970s British war comics, and the result is Old Stoney Face. Thankfully, Pete Travis and Alex Garland's Dredd 3D is exactly as wonderful as everything I've just described.
Karl Urban's Dredd physically recalls the punkier, more athletic drafts of late 1970s Mike McMahon, were the eagle shoulder is less a piece of artistic ostentation and more a body armour detail. Urban is also able to wrinkle his mouth up into an alarmingly accurate approximation of the downturned stingray mouth co-creator Carlos Ezquerra always drew. With little to say, Urban communicates through body language. His Dredd snarls and prowls, utterly unfazed by the twists and turns the Peach Trees siege throws his way.
With Dredd's personality locked and thriving, it falls to Olivia Thirlby's Anderson to experience growth. Over the course of Dredd, she evolves from a flunked rookie to a calm and capable tool of fascism. Her inclusion seems less about bringing a female perspective to Mega City One, and more about how someone human reacts to the otherness of Judge Dredd. Her story is about becoming a respected component; someone Dredd'll allow to watch his corners while he blazes through an army of drug dealers. Anderson, and how Dredd responds to her, also allows screenwriter Alex Garland to work in a key latter-day aspect of Dredd as a character. This unnamed Hotdog Run allows Dredd to play senior Judge, carefully measuring his cadet's suitability in terms of their personality, rather than the binary terms they expect. This examination officer angle revealing, perhaps, Dredd's sole human drive - fairness.
Garland's decision to show Dredd's day-to-day, rather than try and panel beat three or four mega-epics together means a consistent atmosphere and tone is allowed to develop. Dredd's casual indifference to endlessly escalating violence is allowed to be the focus, rather than, say, how he responds to the machinations of doppelgängers and shady superiors. This expression of Dredd is confident enough to be anti-arc. Joe doesn't grow. He doesn't change in any recognisable way. Travis and Garland instead drill down to a core, foundation level aspect of the character's unending appeal. No matter what is thrown at him, he'll shoulder it like it's nothing, endure, and eventually cave someone's fucking head in.