I AM THE SPOILER
Two things occurred to me while watching this massively violent new adaptation of the legendary comic strip, neither of which had anything to do with the fact that the cinema refused point blank to acknowledge they'd played the film noticeably out of focus. The first was that I would rather have been watching The Raid, which essentially took the same potboiler plot but made something visceral and exciting out of it by staging countless bone-crunching fight scenes in the confines of a gloomy tower block. The second was that I'd rather have been watching Judge Dredd, the 1995 movie in which Sylvester Stallone heretically took the helmet off, and was a hundred times more fun and more exciting than this charmless and witless concrete shoot-em-up.
The future: Mega City One (presumably there are others?) is a vast post-apocalypse metropolis stretching from Boston to Washington - the same distance as London to Dundee - with a population of 800 million. Law and order is in the hands of the Judges, dispensing instant justice without trial or appeal. But circulating within the downtrodden underclass at the 200-storey Peach Trees tower block slum is a new drug named slo-mo, which allows the user to experience life at incredibly slow speed: produced and distributed by scarred and embittered ex-prostitute turned gang boss Mama (Lena Headey) whose troops have wiped out all the rival gangs. When Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) and psychic rookie Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) turn up to investigate three homicides, Mama locks the block down until the residents execute the Judges....
Credit to them for sticking with a full-on 18 certificate for relentless violence rather than wimping out with a teen-friendly 15. But no amount of carnage amounts to anything if you don't really care what's going on. Whose side are we supposed to be on anyway? Presumably the judges, since the alternative is the murderous drug gangs, but the Judges are the ruthless enforcement of an authoritarian system that patently doesn't work and certainly hasn't brought crime under control. Obviously there's no empathy with Dredd himself: he is that Force Of Law Made Flesh and is deliberately given no personality or character at all: that's the whole point of him. Do we just root for the innocent citizenry caught in the crossfire? Whoever wins, their lives aren't going to get any better in the short (or most likely long) term.
None of which I'd have any significant problem if the film had some grace, style, wit or depth, but sadly it's just a series of sledgehammer action sequences and shootouts in the dingy corridors of a sink estate, with a fearsome array of weaponry that culminates in some kind of ultra-high-powered Gatling missile launcher gun that looks to carve through half the load-bearing walls of the building (mysteriously without it toppling to the ground like a grimy, graffiti-strewn Jenga) that slaughters the nearly citizenry but misses its actual targets by several yards. 'Twas ever thus: villains' lousy eyesight and inexhaustible ammunition are longstanding dramatic tropes of action movies, and John Woo movies would be at least an hour longer if they had to include the time taken to reload and aim. When they're done well you forgive them. But when they're not....
I'm not a Dredd purist so I'm not down on the movie because it is or isn't faithful to the comic source material: it certainly didn't bother me when Stallone took his hat off in the 1995 version even though That Never Happened in the strips. No, I'm unhappy with this version of Dredd because it's dull and unexciting (despite the carnage), and there's not even much in the way of futuristic spectacle as all but a few minutes of the film take place in the dimly lit confines of the tower block. Some of those scenes even look as if they were shot on lo-definition video (though, as mentioned before, the shoddy projection didn't help). As for the 3D: even though that's how it was shot I deliberately opted for a 2D screening on principle, as I'm increasingly fed up with the enforced 3D premium. But I suspect that with much of the film set in gloomy corridors, the double filtering of glasses and projector could well reduce it to an indiscernible murk even when it's not shown out of focus. Probably the best material to benefit from the 3D would be the slo-mo trip sequences in which the action is shot at 4,000 frames a second and augmented with twinkly CGI floating around the screen. Otherwise, in all honesty you're better off waiting for the Blu.
I wanted to like it: a thumpingly violent and colourful future dystopian romp with plenty of spectacular action and the kind of gleeful satirical humour you'd get from Paul Verhoeven. But I just got intensely bored by the movie, to the extent that I actively wanted Sylvester Stallone's Judge Dredd to come back. And that really can't be good for Dredd.