Dredd (2012)

Dredd (2012)

Dredd (2012)

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

About three minutes into 2012’s Dredd, starring Karl Urban, my wife said to me, “This is like a video game.” This turned out to be a fairly apt assessment, though I think my wife only half realized how correct she was, owing to the fact that she isn’t particularly a fan of video games and she fell asleep roughly 30 minutes into this movie. So yeah…Dredd is that kind of film.

This is essentially a beat-em-up game in cinematic clothing. There are no real surprises, so you can go fix yourself a sandwich in the middle of the film, come back 10 minutes later, and the same sorts of things will be happening. The plot doesn’t evolve. Judge Dredd’s goal to ascend to the top of the megablock tower is a constant. We know who the villain is from the start, we know why, and we know Judge Dredd will eventually kill her, not before killing an army of her goons. Dredd doesn’t follow any sort of conventional three act narrative structure. It’s extremely linear. You get the idea.

Dredd just is what it is. Unabashedly. And with that said…I found it to be pretty damn fun. Dredd features a huge body count and a ton of particularly graphic violence. It also features Karl Urban providing what I honestly believe is an amazing performance as the totally humorless and largely faceless protagonist.

Jaw Acting - Karl Urban as DreddOne reviewer on the Internet Movie Database referred to Urban’s performance as “jaw acting”. That made me laugh out loud, but it’s a great term for what he does here. It really is all in the mouth, and don’t fool yourself–not just any actor could pull this off.

I do think, however, that the reason Urban was able to get away with such a single-minded performance is owed to a pretty good pairing with Olivia Thirlby as the rookie cop that Judge Dredd is tasked with evaluating. This was certainly not a wasted character nor a wasted actress. Dredd portrays Judge Anderson as a woman who wants to succeed in the career for which the brutal world has selected her, and she only confronts in the most minor sense the moral ambiguity intrinsic to her role as judge, jury, and executioner. The extent to which she does, however, is invaluable to the film, I think.

Most importantly, there isn’t even a shred of sexual tension or romantic sentiment between these two judges. Thank god, as that would have been ludicrous.

To be clear, though I am a fan of comic books, I’ve never read any of the 2000AD comics featuring Judge Dredd. Whether this is faithful or not to the source material is a question that I can’t answer. I have a feeling that it is, though I also feel that it’s faithfulness is probably largely immaterial to whether or not a person will enjoy Dredd. 

Dredd feels like a small film with uncomplicated goals, but it very adequately accomplishes those goals while having absolutely no delusions about the sort of film that it is. I can appreciate this sort of straightforward filmmaking, and it’s not surprising that Dredd seems to have acquired some sort of cult audience despite having been a total flop at the box office.

Now that you’ve read that, go watch this video review of both Dredd and Judge Dredd (1995) by my friend Donald of Blessed Are the Geeks.


Sucker Punch, X-Men: First Class

Sucker Punch (2011)

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Sometimes it’s nice to know that nobody gives two shits about your reviews. Like now, for example, because I can admit to having enjoyed watching Sucker Punch.

You know…I kinda think Zack Snyder demonstrates elements of genius in his filmmaking, not solely in his striking use of computer imagery, but also in his visual storytelling. And I’m totally serious. This is a work that could almost be played as a straight silent film (and in point of fact, for the first five minutes or so, that’s pretty much exactly what it is).

I’m only going to say three things about this movie:

(1) I was never bored. At all. I found it roundly entertaining from minute one right through to the unexpected musical number in the credits.

(2) It’s not totally empty-headed entertainment by any means. While so many action films feel uncomfortably familiar, as though you’ve seen them before, I promise you, you’ve never seen Sucker Punch before. You may have seen fragments of this film elsewhere, but never strung together this way or within such an odd narrative frame.

(3) Neat soundtrack, though this could just as easily be somebody else’s complaint, as the film at times feels like a sequence of music videos.

If I’m being honest, I don’t quite understand why it was eviscerated by critics. And I’m not going to bother reading the reviews.

Is it a brilliant work of cinema that 20 years from now is going to be studied in film theory courses alongside Citizen Kane? No, of course not. Hell, it might not even be a movie you’d be willing to watch more than once. But even if you consider the film a failure, it seems you would have to acknowledge that it’s an interesting failure, at least.

X-Men: First Class (2011)

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Why do the writers of these movies always feel the need to inject at least a few ridiculous mutants of their own creation? To be honest, I haven’t read a bunch of X-Men comics, so perhaps some of these lame-ass characters are actual Marvel creations, but just as an example, this film gives us a stripper with dragonfly wings who hawks up fireballs from her throat. She’s not a prominent character, really, but the point is, she’s in X-Men: First Class, and when you see a character like that, it makes you cry a little bit for all of the awesome mutants they could have employed instead.

Also, there’s a character that’s just Nightcrawler except he’s red and Russian. Get it? And there’s another guy whose “ability to adapt” somehow allows him to encase his torso in a turtle shell. Or something.

Nitpicking aside, this wasn’t a bad origin story for the X-Men. It hits all the notes: Magneto’s beginnings during the Holocaust, the friendship between Xavier and Magneto, the romance between Xavier and Moira McTaggert, Xavier’s paralysis, Professor X’s School for the Gifted, and so forth. And along the way, it manages to explain things like how Mystique fell in with Magneto, how Hank McCoy turned all blue and hairy, and even how Magneto acquired that helmet of his. Internally, it’s pretty sound storytelling as all things organically fall into their place as we know they must.

In all fairness, there’s a lot to like about this film. So why didn’t I love it? I’m not quite certain, to be frank with you. Perhaps because I never did quite get interested in the villain’s plot to start World War III. Or perhaps it’s merely because I don’t care much about characters like Banshee or Havok. Or perhaps it’s because I think it may have been pointless to attempt to wedge this into the continuity previously established by the other X-Men films; and even within those guidelines, it still creates some questionable continuity. In any case, you have my rating.

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Bonus! Random Video

This has absolutely nothing to do with anything. I just stumbled across it on YouTube and it cracked me up hard for some reason.


Thor (2011)

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

It makes sense in a way that Kenneth Branagh should be the director tasked with helming this ship, because there is something distinctly Shakespearean in the circumstances found within. The longstanding undercurrent of sibling rivalry, Loki’s sundry machinations all for the benefit of his father’s love, Thor’s arrogance and resulting comeuppance…well, I don’t know if this is weightier material than gets covered in other comic book films, but just the same, it’s all covered here with a certain earnestness that is either overdone in some of these genre films or not quite taken seriously enough in others.

While this was not a perfect movie–and perhaps not even a perfect Thor movie–it nevertheless captures the sense of wonder and imagination that have been the hallmarks of this character when he has been at his best over the many decades of his existence as a Marvel Comics character. It sounds like a simple thing, but what I appreciated the most about this film is encapsulated in the fact that Loki wears a helmet with bag-ass antelope-like horns on it, if you know what I mean. The filmmakers aren’t embarrassed about the source material as is sometimes the case–they embraced it, and the film was better for it.

Anyway, just a few comments before I close this thing up.

Chris Hemsworth: who is this devilishly charming bastard? Stellar casting. I think I’ve got a bit of a man crush on him. Random aside: I just looked into it, and he’s a full foot taller than Natalie Portman, which is probably why most of the scenes between them are played sitting down.

On the topic of Natalie Portman, am I the only one who has difficulty buying her as an astrophysicist? I know she went to Harvard and everything, but I don’t know…

I was very pleased in general with the film’s casting. Ray Stevenson (Titus Pullo from Rome) as Volstagg; Anthony Hopkins as Odin, giving a real performance instead of a “comic book movie performance”, the way a lot of guys in his position might do; and Tom Hiddleston–whom I’d never seen before, but who positively embodies the trickster god, Loki. No complaints about anybody else–they’re all well matched to the roles they play, but those were a few of my favorites.

So yeah…Thor. It won’t change your life, but it’s a lot of fun. I actually wound up watching it twice. I had nothing better to do while making dinner today, so I put it on for background noise and wound up watching it through to the end again. Suffice it to say, I liked it.

Second Opinions