When I was a kid I chanced upon 2000AD and, for a short period, I bought it every week. If you’ve not read 2000AD, you might think it’s a nerdy, ultraviolent science fiction comic (and you’d be right) and as such it’s regularly dismissed as an adolescent concern; as a teenager keenly aware of wanting to be cool, I swiftly stopped buying it when I learned this, and began looking for more serious literature to fill the gap (and do a better job of impressing others/girls).
I’ve never been a huge comic reader, but 2000AD was my gateway drug to a world of fine, artistically challenging, serious “graphic novels”, which I read throughout my 20s, in an attempt to marry my affection for comic books with my pretentiously high-brow attitude towards literature. Consequently, a shelf in my flat groans with expensive, sincere comic books, few of which I ever actually finished.
Later, it occurred to me that the comic I wanted to read wasn’t a hip independent quarterly at all – it was 2000AD, and when I went back to it I immediately recalled that actually, despite it being nerdy and ultraviolent, it was always bloody smart and often highly political and satirical. More importantly, it was great fun, and for all the dazzlingly inventive stuff that would feature in it, by far the best was generally the staple, Judge Dredd, which was and is a work of complete genius. Having spent pretending otherwise, It’s probably fashionable to say this, now, which makes this mea culpa somewhat redundant, but there it is.
Anyway, I watched the recent adaptation of this fine comic strip, the Brit-made ‘Dredd’, starring Karl Urban and Olivia Thirlby this weekend, and I thought it was completely marvellous. Possibly not quite as darkly comic as the strip, nor quite as gruesomely inventive (hard on a very low budget), but it was an absolutely fantastic, lean, aggressive, compulsive bit of action cinema, propelled by all the things that make the comic strip great – a complete lack of misogyny, a vivid and colourful concept and best of all, a central character who is complete in every sense.
Dredd isn’t, if you trace him through the comic, a lot of things he’s described as being (a fascist, an unlearning automaton), but he is consistent, coherent and always convincing, as cleanly defined an action hero as you could wish for. He’s also devilishly hard to play, so I was completely certain that neither Karl Urban nor any actor could convincingly portray Dredd on screen, but after fifteen minutes I was absolutely sold on his performance.
Similarly, my heart sank when I saw that a young and very beautiful actress had been picked to play Anderson, fearing that meant a descent into predictable roles, but her performance (and more important, her characterisation) is almost note perfect. Never once is she shown to be weaker than any male character nor is her meeting with the (also female) villain contextualised in light of their sex. She’s just a brilliant, character, as is Dredd.
And this is a brilliant film. Not flawless, obviously, and some way from being a masterpiece of cinema – but it is a masterpiece of bringing Dredd to life, which is all we could have asked for. There’s some really exciting slo-mo filming in there, too, enough to suggest that given a bigger budget a sequel could go some way to visualising the extraordinary colour and madness of the comic.
In the meantime, your Saturday night needs Dredd.