Apparently, there was a huge fan fuss over whether Karl Urban would ever take off his face concealing helmet in the new adaptation of 2000 AD's Judge Dredd. I gather that in the comic - which is the ownlie trew scripture in fan world - he takes off his helmet even less often than Darth Vader. When Sylvester Stallone made his Judge Dredd movie, he took off the helmet, and somehow this ruined the movie for everyone. More than having Stallone in it or Rob Schneider, which once more reminds me that it's never the big things which tip people over the edge, but the little unconsidered details which no-one thought would matter at the time.
Having now sat through all $45 million of Dredd; 3D, I can not only set your minds at rest on the helmet issue, but also share with you the moment in which I realised why Karl Urban kept the helmet on. He must, at some point, have realised that if he kept his face covered, he might just get away with being in this movie. Lena Headey, taking time out from being the most hated woman on TV (HBO subdivision) probably figured that a big scar, plenty of tattoos and some really neglected looking teeth might just stop anyone from spotting Queen Cersei slumming it down Mega City One way, in which case; really? You really thought that there are people out there who'd queue up for a comic book adaptation and haven't already seen you in not only Game of Thrones but Sarah Connor Chronicles? You'd have needed the helmet in floor length, honey.
Karl had the right idea, phoning in the most monotone performance since Robocop (one of eight or nine different influences the film wears on its dowdy sleeve). Everyone else seems to have thought that acting might save them, but as is so often the case, even with a pre-written property and enough money to run a hospital for a year, writers seem to have been less of a priority than murky dazzle. And if they haven't written you the lines or sent out for fully rounded characters, no amount of acting is going to save you.
They did have the time to get in some really dumb ideas. Take the new designer drug which provides the driver for the plot. It makes you feel like things have slowed down by a factor of one hundred. Apparently, this is an enormous big deal in communities where unemployment has to get over 90% before it's even worth mentioning. I'd have thought time was moving plenty slow enough for most of the potential customers. I can think of a couple of situations where it would be huge fun to slow things down and take your time, but we never see any of the drug users deploying the hit at those moments. What the drug does do is provide endless excuses to go into slow motion with lots of psychedelia, which really adds to the headaches which come free with your 3D glasses, thank you SO much. Someone got a slow motion camera for Christmas and wanted an excuse to play with it, I fancy.
Anyhow, there's your drug, and it's the next big thing. And it's dominated by Lena Headey's Ma Ma, possibly the least together criminal kingpin ever to walk the earth. I've never seen anyone get so little personal satisfaction out of being a criminal mastermind. Admittedly, I don't expect criminals to be chirpy when the Old Bill comes knocking, but if I was the richest gang boss in a tower block full of drug addicts, I like to think that I'd live in a nicer apartment than any of my customers and have a wardrobe that looked like I hadn't just been mugged and left for dead. Ma Ma's actually got Avon Barksdale on her crew; hard to believe he couldn't have given her a couple of tips about how the king has to represent. But Ma Ma is one those weird people who only exist in movies; a person who's evil for the sake of being evil, with no apparent plan beyond ruining everyone's day.
So, having drawn down the majesty of the law on her head by ordering three guys skinned and chucked off a balcony for trespassing on her drug dealing territory, her ruining-the-day-plans need to go up a notch so that she can deal with two pesky Judges. In a move which even the relentlessly deadpan Dredd says out loud is a weird over reaction, this goes straight to locking down a two hundred storey housing complex and invoking a nuclear war alert so that she can kill them without interference from the outside world. Since she's apparently doing this to cover up a drug factory in the same complex, which will be swarming with cops as soon as they notice the, you know, nuclear war alert, it looks like Ma Ma is getting most of her ideas by asking What Would Joffrey Do? and then amping it up to eleven and a bit.
So now we have Judge Dredd and Judge Anderson running for their lives through said complex, being chased by guys with guns, local knowledge and all the tactical nous of cheese mould. They drop in platoons, until Ma Ma finally tires of "doing it clean" and amps things up by hosing down an entire floor of the building with gatling guns, shredding just about everyone on the floor except the two people she's trying to hit. All the way through this, Dredd, who's the smartest toughest judge ever to have lived, apparently, keeps fretting about his ammunition supply without ever once grabbing any of the dozens of guns being dropped by the mooks falling dead all around him. Even his rookie sidekick, who's too dumb/psychic to bother with a helmet, eventually realises that other people's guns will work just fine, but not Dredd.
Eventually the writers realise that Dredd is going to need some more bullets, so they send in four crooked Judges to chase him down; this elite mob is so visibly doomed that the moment I saw them, the first thing that came into my head was "reloads." Sure enough, Dredd picks them off one at a time, but it isn't until he's finally seen off the last one that he starts looting ammo.It's becoming all too easy to see why crime is rampant in Mega City One if this is what the best of the best gets up to.
And all delays and diversions finally out of the way, Dredd and Anderson do finally get around to killing Ma Ma, with yet more slow motion, and the movie is more or less blessedly over.
Mostly, it's a murky mess which steals bits from all kinds of other movies, not all of them even any better than it is. There's RoboCop DNA in there, and bits of Mad Max, and the whole running through a big building deal owes at least something to The Raid, and of course it's echoing all the hundreds of movies which have been made in which a rookie cop gets tested with a cynical veteran. And its miserabilist vision of the future owes a lot to the look of films like District 9. And I could go on, but I won't.
There was one thing which I thought was dumb, but proved not to be completely dumb. As we get into the final heat, Avon Barksdale gets the drop unexpectedly on Judge Anderson and takes her hostage with her own gun. Ah, fergadsake, I thought. A) she's psychic, how the hell did she not see that coming and B) the gun is hardwired to work only with her hand on it, so she's not being held hostage at all. Dredd can plug Avon at his leisure. Instead, Dredd has to let her get dragged off to become a maiden in need of rescue. Later, when Anderson is finally down for the chop from her own gun, what had seemed dumb was suddenly not so dumb. Avon pulls the trigger, isn't recognised and the gun self-destructs blowing half his arm off. Now, that could have been quite awkward when the gun was jammed in under Anderson's shapely jaw, so Dredd holding his fire suddenly made a lot more sense. Still think she should have seen it coming.
In all honestly, the trailer and elementary common sense meant I knew going in that Dredd wouldn't be up to much, but I was disappointed that it wasn't even hilariously bad enough to make a properly funny blog post out of.