Category Archives: Cinema

gotg 16x9

When Marvel announced it, Guardians of the Galaxy seemed like the riskiest endeavor for the company, yet. It’s based on an obscure comic of a D-list antiheroes, which include a talking tree and a gun-toting raccoon, and even hardcore Marvel fans barely knew about it. We didn’t really know anything about the source material or the movie and I wondered if this would be their first critical and/or financial flop.

Then, Marvel hired James Gunn to direct it. And he has made possibly Marvel’s best movie.

No Marvel movie feels like this one, which is sure to please people who felt that the movies were getting too homogenized in look or tone. Guardians is unique in both aspects. It’s irreverent, self-aware, and vibrant. It’s the most cinematic movie of the bunch, with Gunn painting a sweeping space opera canvas as well as an intimate study of damaged characters. He surrounds them with evocative spaceship designs and frames them in fantastically colorful space backdrops. From the cinematography, to the production design, and an army of computer animators, Guardians of the Galaxy looks excellent.

And it is excellent. As director and writer working from a previous script by Nicole Perlman, Gunn manages to properly do what most filmmakers fail at. He and his cast and crew pull off a tricky balance between humor and pathos. The opening switches from a touching scene between young Peter Quill and his cancer-stricken mother to adult Quill, dancing his way through an abandoned planet. That kind of transition could make for some real whiplash, but both scenes are handled with skill and sincerity. Gunn isn’t distancing you from Quill, but attaching you to him. He’s asking us to empathize. And he and Chris Pratt pull it off. Gunn shoots the cancer ward scene with restraint and sensitivity while Pratt carries the next scene with more charm than 17 Aaron Taylor-Johnsons.

It’s also hysterical. Filled with whip-smart one-liners and consistently funny back and forth dialogue, Guardians also manages to be cinematically funny. Gunn uses the camera to elicit laughs better than most “comedy” directors. Frequently dark, but never cruel, Gunn still imbues the movie with heart and soul.

And a lot more charm and soul come from the cast. Pratt gives a great performance here. He brings the same kind of sincerity from Parks and Recreation and mixes it with roguish charm and boatloads of charisma to create a character you would believe people would trust, despite his reputation as a thief.

Other cast members perform admirably as well. The most exciting surprise is Dave Bautista as Drax. Playing a character who takes everything 100% literally, he performs ridiculous, Shakespearean lines with concise, deadpan wit. Consequently, he gets some of the biggest laughs in the movie.

Bradley Cooper whips out a New York street touch accent for Rocket, the genetically altered raccoon who is going to be every kid’s new favorite toy. And Vin Diesel is Groot, Rocket’s big talking tree buddy. The movie gets a lot of emotional and comedic mileage out of Groot with some outstanding animation work that makes a Vin Diesel’s tree character more emotive than Vin Diesel himself. Within a short span, Groot gets a darkly humorous action scene and then a genuine, character-derived emotional moment.

Unfortunately, there is one weak link, and it’s baffling: Zoe Saldana. A veteran of sci-fi cinema and a terrific actress to boot, she never feels right as Gamora. She doesn’t convey the danger that a lifelong assassin should convey, nor does she strike a balance between danger and empathy that an assassin with a newly-found conscious should have. What she does convey is vulnerability, a trait that I don’t think quite works for a character who is supposed to be withdrawn and distrustful.

Those emotional moments do come as a surprise, given how flip the movie can be at times. But they work because those moments come characters who have been economically established and developed. They all have psychological scars. All of them are wounded. And they’re all emotionally distant at the beginning of the film, happy to resort to fights and insults.

That economy does come at the expense of an organic feel. The first act suffers from a rush to establish these five characters, the world, the Macguffin that drives the plot, and the villains, who once again, are not interesting. Lee Pace has screen presence as Ronan, the big bad, but his character has no depth. He’s just a dick. Same goes for Karen Gillan’s Nebula.

Even though Guardians fails on these levels, it succeeds where it counts the most: characters. They’re three dimensional assholes who bounce off each other in ways that feel loyal to their characterizations and form a plausible, unconventional family unit. A family unit you can go get shit-faced with.

Guardians of the Galaxy stood as the biggest question in Marvel’s slate six months ago. Now, it’s one of its best films; a genuine crowd-pleaser, a booster for all involved, and an unabashedly fun time at the movies. Just like the best of the Marvel offerings.

Advertisements

Edwards talking on-set with Bryan Cranston

Today, Lucasfilm and Disney announced that Gary Whitta will write the first spin-off of the new Star Wars trilogy and that Gareth Edwards will direct.

Edwards is coming off of his Godzilla reboot, which had a killer opening weekend and mostly positive reviews. The quality aspects of that film undoubtedly belong to Edwards and his cinematographer Seamus McGarvey. The film is gorgeously shot and has some of the best tension-building sequences in a blockbuster in several years. Edwards proves that he knows how to handle big effects showcases.

What he also proved was that he couldn’t direct actors very well and Godzilla‘s script is mediocre. Edwards’ direction makes it pop. And the screenwriter for this new film, Whitta, hasn’t exactly scored a slam dunk yet.  His two feature scripts are the ok-at-best Denzel Washington vehicle, The Book of Eli, and the Will Smith-nepotism project After Earth. Critics hung up that film by its toes and beat it with a nailed bat last year, but I’m willing to bet that the problems with that film come more from the director, M. Night Shyamalan, and the Smiths.

Whitta has found the most acclaim as a writer for Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead, so maybe he’s a lot better than his feature film record indicate. Likely, actually. But under the umbrella of Star Wars, he probably won’t get to flex those muscles. I could be wrong. I hope I’m wrong. I’d love to get a good Star Wars movie and with the astonishingly-mediocre J.J. Abrams at the wheel of Episode VII, it’s almost a guarantee that this spin-off will at least look better. Edwards is a gifted director who desperately needs a great script and good leading actors if he’s going to make a truly great film.

2014-Godzilla-Movie-Teaser-Poster-Wallpaper-HDr (1)

Audience expectations are a dangerous thing, not just for the audience but for the film presented. If the audience expects something that the movie doesn’t present, can it really judge the movie fairly? If I have it in my head that Godzilla is going to be a grim, brooding, $150 million horror film retrofitting the classic monster as a force of nature and a prominent figure in its own film, is it my fault if I don’t get that? And is it my fault if I don’t like what I get that much?

I say this because Godzilla was advertised as a completely different movie than the one currently in theaters. The good news is that the movie in theaters isn’t bad, and at times it’s excellent. The bad news is that the movie in trailers and commercials looks so much better than this film. Instead of Bryan Cranston as the main character, we get Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Instead of a compelling mystery story, we get a trite “nuclear-family is in danger” story. Instead of a genuinely unnerving and nerve-wrecking horror vibe, we get a slightly darker Pacific Rim vibe.

Cranston, in limited screen time, proves he can be a compelling presence without Walter White’s baggage. He knows what notes to hit for a character that could be much more boring thanks to the average screenplay he works with. Despite his age, he probably has a long career as a movie star ahead of him. Cranston plays Joe Brody, a man obsessed with finding the real cause of a 1999 meltdown at the Japanese nuclear plant he used to run. He drags his son Ford, played by Johnson, into the Quarantine Zone caused by the meltdown to search for proof. Johnson, so good as the titular character in Kick-Ass, is painfully dull here. He has the same vacant expression for when his dad asks him to go to the Quarantine Zone as he does when a giant monster wreaks havoc in that zone about 10 minutes later.

With no Bryan Cranston and less of a focus on these two characters, the movie becomes far less engaging since the real story is Ford trying to get from Japan to San Francisco to meet up with his boring wife, played by Elizabeth Olsen, and their son. Because of Johnson’s bland performance, he fails to engage the audience with his character on any significant level. He acts as a blank slate. He has no range of emotion or vocalization. He flatlines as a performer. All Olsen can do is cry for her husband. Juliette Binoche dies in the first 10 minutes of the movie. Once again, the female gender gets sidelined. Ken Watanabe is playing the movie’s Godzilla expert. He and his partner, played by Sally Hawkins, play the exposition people, telling us Godzilla’s history and function as nature’s balancing force. According to Watanabe’s Dr. Serizawa, Godzilla exists to bring nature back into balance. And that’s why he’s looking for the MUTOs.

And those MUTOs strangely enough take precedence over Godzilla in the story and the screen. In fact, he doesn’t show up for about an hour, and only then in glimpses.  The  giant Cloverfield-looking MUTOs move the plot along. Godzilla only exists in this movie to fight them.

Slowly building to the reveal instead of just showing him early on is not a bad idea, and it kind of works in this movie. When he finally shows up in all his glory, he looks incredible. He’s gigantic, as tall as the skyscrapers. But if you’re going to build up to the monster’s reveal, you need to have an engaging human story on the way there. And this story does not engage. But what’s really…just weird is how much more screen time the generic-named MUTOs get. They cause a ton of havoc, destruction, and make the movie pop in the first couple of acts.

godzilla2014-uk-trailer-screencap-19

For all of his faults in directing actors, director Gareth Edwards has a lot of positive qualities. His 2010 film Monsters shares a lot of the same flaws, but it also foreshadowed his many gifts. If you’ve seen that movie, you got an inkling that he might be a master of building up dread and holding tension. Godzilla confirms it. Every scene that either involves a monster or leads up to a monster is outstanding. Edwards manages to instill dread, fear, and tension in the audience before inspiring a true sense of awe. The point-of-view shots help with this. He keeps his camera near human characters to let the audience view these gargantuan beasts from their perspective. It gives the movie a powerful sense of scale, since we can see just how big they are in comparison to us. Edwards keeps his camera still and allows the overwhelming feeling that scale inspires to sink in, while still ever-so-slightly shaking the camera to affect the fear the characters feel.

The best the movie gets is the HALO jump scene, glimpsed at in the first trailer for the film. This scene illustrates all of Edwards’ skills perfectly. In the lead-in to the jump,Edwards establishes the soldiers’ fear; they recite bible verses and Ford looks gloomily at a picture of his family. Then the plane opens up, and we glimpse the sky, reddened and darkened from the smoke coming from below. Edwards doesn’t reveal the cause of this atmosphere just yet. Alexandre Desplat’s score, now emulating chamber music with high-pitched vocals backing the diegetic sounds, underscores the scene like a horror film. In an extreme long shot, we see the soldiers, trailing red smoke from the flares attached to their legs, falling towards a city on fire and utterly demolished. The cause? Godzilla and a MUTO, brawling, smashing, careening through skyscrapers. All seen through Ford Brody’s mask.

That scene establishes character, massive scale, and point of view, through which Edwards evokes terror, dread, fear, and awe all in the course of less than two minutes. Edwards comes close to this greatness with other fantastic scenes, as well, which disappoints me even more that he can’t get his human characters right. Too often, Edwards cuts back to these characters that has failed to make resonate with the audience.

But the scenes like that make the movie worth watching. And if the whole movie had been of those emotional roller coaster scenes with better performances and Godzilla as the terrifying force of nature, it would have been phenomenal. It would have been the movie Legendary Pictures advertised.

Instead, we got a good version of the monster-punches-monster movie. That’s all well and fine, and I’m willing to see another Gareth Edwards Godzilla, but I was sold and hyped for a much different movie. A more interesting movie that doesn’t treat Godzilla like a tertiary character.

30 Years later: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

indiana-jones-and-the-temple-of-doom-original

I want to thank the 1980s for the multitude of truly great science-fiction films like Aliens, The Terminator, The Empire Strikes Back, Blade Runner, Predator, and other films that I’m not remembering or haven’t even seen yet, like John Carpenter’s The Thing. I’d also like to thank it for the truly bizarre pieces of fantasy like Labyrinth. And last, but not least, I’d like to thank it for the two good Indiana Jones movies, Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade. 

Now, why did it have to give me Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom as well? On the 30th anniversary of the film’s original theatrical release, I can honestly say that I think it is an abominable piece of shit. But it’s kind of fascinating in the context of our nostalgia-soaked culture.

First, the movie. It’s awful. And it totally shouldn’t be. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, the architects behind the very good Raiders of the Lost Ark, two very good friends who enjoyed bouncing ideas off each other, returned for another film in 1984 to for another romp. But it seems that the only real motivation was to.make a ton of money. It sure as hell wasn’t to expand on the character in any way. Because at the end of this prequel, we have learned literally nothing new about the title character. In fact, we’re left with more questions than answers: why did Indy say he didn’t believe in ghost stories in Raiders if he saw a dude’s heart catch on fire after it was ripped from his chest and he was still alive? Why does he not believe in ghosts when he was a clear victim of voodoo magic and blood-drinking brainwashing? Why the hell does this 40 year-old man run around with a Chinese sidekick? Why didn’t he take him to an orphanage?

The point of a prequel is to explain something about a character that we didn’t know about in a previous movie. Ironically enough, the Star Wars prequels did a better job at hashing out important main characters than ToD. Here, not only do we learn nothing about Indy, we learn nothing about any of his friends or family.

But those narrative faults aren’t what make this movie a catastrophe for two-thirds of its run time. And you know the element that I’m about to harp on.

Temple-of-Doom-Screencap-indiana-jones-18904033-1024-440

Kate Capshaw.

She gives maybe the most annoying, grating, unbearable, train-wreck-of-a-performance that I’ve ever seen. Willie Scott, thanks to her screeching and wailing, is an annoyance. Her character could have gone one of two ways: one, which is the wailing asshole that she is, or as a put-upon, exacerbated fish out of water trying to maintain her dignity. Vanity is ingrained in her character through the script (she’s always looking for jewels), and she could have come off as a much more nuanced character. Instead of wailing, she could just be grimacing. Instead of helplessly crying, she could be forcefully ordering. But Capshaw plays her as a whining housewife plucked from Orange County, whose almost too scared about breaking a nail to save people’s lives and she’s a gigantic prick throughout the movie.

Speaking of dick, she was also sleeping with director Steven Spielberg during filming, so not only did she ruin this already-bad movie, she also ruined a marriage. What a total reverse-course from the previous installment’s Marion Ravenwood.

And while he’s not nearly as suicide-inducingly bad as her, Short-Round pisses me off, as well. The film introduces us to him after a lengthy club sequence where Indy negotiates with Chinese gangsters over a diamond (WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING IN THIS FUCKING MOVIE?) and Indy basically kidnaps Willie. Seriously; he pulls a gun on her (only because she’s close, and she has no knowledge of what is going on here) and tries to use her as a bargaining chip. Later in the scene, Indy pulls his hostage out of a window while Short-Round pulls up in the nick of time to save Indy from a posthumous murder-suicide-racketeering charge.

Ok, so Short-Round proves his usefulness. Then, he speaks. And GODDAMNIT why does he have to sound like a such a prototypical “plucky” sidekick and slightly racist caricature? “Oki doki Dr. Jonesy!” “I touch nothing!”

OH GOD, MAKE IT STOP!

Thankfully, the main characters do finally shut up (which is never a phrase you should utter) and this movie does get better. The third act kicks up the action enough to where Spielberg throws a barrage of gore and violence at you. Spielberg has always been good at maintaining tension throughout action scenes and knowing just when to make the right cut or where to put the camera to capture the action.

Also, Temple of Doom really is shockingly violent at times, which is what defenders of the movie have accused haters of conflating with poor quality. “It’s just too dark for you” is a common retort. My retort to that is of course “no, it just sucks ass.”

Burningheart

Indy is the same character throughout the movie, as are Short-Round and Scott. The white man saves the day with the help of his Asian sidekick and literally useless female companion (she does nothing but hinder Indy’s quest, except for the one time she punches a guy). We learn nothing about the titular character.

Well, maybe that’s not true. We learn that he’s a MAJOR pussy-hound who will go after any attractive woman, no matter how insufferable she is. At least Elsa had some brass.

IT’S NOT QUALITY, IT’S MEMORY

Nostalgia holds sway over people like a disease. It hinders critical thought. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary describes it as “homesickness” or “a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition.” Essentially, nostalgia is a longing for the past, as I’ve said before.

We all like to get a little nostalgic about some past part of our lives. And it’s easy to associate a product with that nostalgia because it conjures up pleasant memories of an innocent time in our lives. But there comes a point where the memory has overridden the senses. I get that you may not be as annoyed with Kate Capshaw as I am, but even looking past that, think of what the character contributes to the story: nothing. She doesn’t help Indy, she doesn’t add dimension to any of the other characters or proceedings, and she doesn’t have trait besides being a one-note screeching banshee.

It really is an example of just how empty blockbusters can be. With no illumination of our main character and total disregard for its own world and its audience’s own tolerance, Temple of Doom is one of those 1980’s films that exists as a monument in the generational debate; where nostalgia, memory, and perspective conflate with quality and analysis. And where there might be no end to the conversation. So sound off in those comments!

The Subversion of Captain America: The Winter Soldier

captain-america-winter-soldier-banner

SPOILERS BELOW. DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE. ALSO, GO SEE THE MOVIE. IT’S AWESOME.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the best Marvel solo movie, and maybe the best Marvel movie period. Its balance of action and story, plot and character are examples of Doing it Right. It gives ample time to show multiple facets of its important side characters, all but one of whom aren’t white men. And while the titular Winter Soldier is the one that gets sidelined in favor of another “save the world” plot, at least what the world needs saving from is fascinating.

HYDRA takes over S.H.I.E.L.D. for the purposes of protecting humanity from itself. Armin Zola argues that humanity can’t be trusted with its own freedom. And that World War II taught him and his HYDRA cohorts that humanity needed to be convinced to voluntarily give up their freedom. And he does all of this as a Fallout-style computer that he downloaded his brain into.

Yup. Captain America: The Winter Soldier uses a gleefully pulpy, 1950’s sci-fi convention to make the point that people have traded in their freedom for the illusion of security. It’s a popular topic of conversation in the political and sociological sphere, and for good reason. We are giving up our freedoms; the Patriot Act and the NDAA are just two examples of the effects of our continued complacency.

The movie basically gives its audience a giant middle finger with the most comic-book-ass-comic-book trope I can imagine. A trope borrowed from 50’s sci-fi and kind of out of place for the otherwise grounded The Winter Soldier. It marries its juvenile (and awesome) roots with genuine political awareness. Maybe in a hokey sort of way, but it does it. But this isn’t the only aspect of the movie that subverts our expectations.

cap-2-old-skool__span

Did you think Capt. America was a square? A jingoistic jackass who only served his purpose in the era of World War II? So did I, until Captain America: The First Avenger. That movie made me realize this character isn’t the jingoistic “America is right” caricature I assumed he would be. Or at least, he isn’t that anymore and won’t be in the movies. But it’s The Winter Soldier that makes me a genuine fan.

As Bob Chipman points out in his review for the Escapist, you can’t NOT get political in a movie that takes place in a post-9/11 world and whose main character is named Capt. America. There is going to be an unavoidable subtext no matter what the character does. But by making Cap the guy who questions the government’s tactics of preemptive strike and lack of transparency, he becomes an antagonist for how the real government operates. Capt. America sometimes has to fight America.

And the fact that it’s HYDRA pulling the strings implicates the US in a different way. In the movie, Zola mentions Operation Paperclip, a government operation that brought Nazi scientists to America. This was a real thing that the US did. By merging this bit of reality with the movie’s fiction, the movie insinuates that the US, in real life, has succumbed just as much S.H.I.E.L.D. has to Nazi influence. Or almost as much. Obama’s not building giant helicarriers. He does have a lot of drones, though.

Steve Rogers is the embodiment of all of the good ideals that we, as Americans, like to aspire to: a perfect outside masking intelligence, self-confident, selfless, and eminently just human being. And while he is the leader, he surrounds himself with two black men and two women as his only confidants. Diversity surrounds the Captain and it’s these people who save the day with him. He has no qualms about race or gender and he’s against the fear-mongering that has taken over his government. He’s a progressive, and in that sense, he’s only a man out of time because he’s still apparently too progressive even for our world, whose leaders are still terrified of minorities and women having power.

I was starting to get a little worried about Marvel. Iron Man 3 came off as a movie that wasn’t willing to go deep into itself or its characters, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is infuriatingly safe on most weeks. But The Winter Soldier ups the ante on everything. I was never off the Marvel Movie Train, but now I’m starting to enjoy the ride again.

I’ve been streaming movies and here’s what I think of them

Look, I’m a few beers in, so this might be a little rambly because I’m not sure I want to do reviews for three (a fourth tomorrow) movies that everybody else saw when they came out. I might, though. Until then, let me just dole out a few thoughts in the interest of sparking conversation and getting hits on my blog.

1. Hunger (Dir. Steve McQueen, 2009)

Before Oscar noticed he was awesome with 12 Years a Slave, McQueen hooked up with his now perennial collaborator Michael Fassbender for this tale about Irish Republicans rebelling in Maze Prison in 1981. McQueen employs his usual arsenal of long takes that exacerbate the harrowing display of human suffering, with Fassbender delivering a mesmerizing performance. It’s emblematic of all of their work together (I haven’t seen Shame but fans of that movie say it’s also hard to watch and about human suffering) and doesn’t leave the mind easily.

2. Lost in Translation (Dir. Sofia Coppola, 2003)

As the daughter of great-filmmaker-for-one-decade and legendary asshole Francis Ford Coppola, Sofia had some big shoes to fill. This is her second feature film and it’s her most revered. You probably already know how beautiful it is. Her camera captures the isolation of the characters played by Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray with such keen authenticity and melancholy, it’s hard not to tear up. Especially if you know you’ve been there. But it’s not all dour sadness; the moments of levity add to the sadness of their loneliness. Coppola knows what she’s doing here. And so does the cast. Murray perfectly transplants his deadpan cadence into a forlorn older man who just wants someone he can talk to. Johansson plays a similarly-minded young woman whose husband neglects her while the jobless philosophy-major walks around Tokyo looking for friendship. A charming, empathetic movie.

3. The Fountain (Dir. Darren Aronofsky, 2006)

I have no idea what I watched but I really, really liked it. Aronofsky’s millenium-spanning (or is it?), space-traveling (or does it?) love story is a fascinating, baffling, and beautifully-shot epic. I’m confounded in a way I love to be confounded; I don’t feel like the movie withheld information from me to artificially create tension, but instead is so deeply layered and symbolic that I need to re-watch it. And I want to. In an early scene, Hugh Jackman, as a bald space-monk floating with a giant tree toward a nebula in space, levitates upward before the film dissolves to the present day. Combined with the fact that it has the same color palette as Deus Ex: Human Revolution, I was in the bag for this movie from the beginning.

The Feminism of “Dredd”

dreddposter

Big spoilers for Dredd. Watch the movie before you read.

As if I didn’t say enough about Pete Travis’s Dredd, the 2012 adaptation of the 2000 AD comic book character. Travis and writer Alex Garland made a thoroughly cartoonish, yet deceptively intelligent action movie that gave no fucks about what it was and wholeheartedly embraced its identity as a gory throwback to 1980s action cinema. But the more I think about Dredd, the more I find within. On second viewing, I found a film that criticizes the main character’s black and white view of law and order, and now I’m thinking there’s even more to it.

JudgeAndersonDreddThe character who acts as the counterpoint to Dredd’s cold and uncompromising view of the world is Anderson, the female new recruit with psychic powers. Her powers allow her to breach into the mind of a target at will, and gain some key information and even manipulate them. She can’t control them, but she can read and confuse them, as she does with the duo’s cuffed drug dealer, Kay.

The big fish of the movie, the villain controlling everything, is Ma-Ma. She is a stunningly sadistic and vicious psychopath who rose through the ranks rapidly. She started as just a prostitute, but through cunning and guile, she fought her way to the top. Both of these female characters are powerful in their own rights and command respect, although Anderson doesn’t really earn that respect until the third act, whereas the film establishes Ma-Ma as a figure not to be fucked with from the very beginning.

The movie places Anderson between these two powerful figures, who sort of function as a belligerent mom-and-dad combo, with Anderson playing the green and naive surrogate daughter. And while Dad comes out on top, it’s Anderson who has the final word. She provides the unexpected act of ethics that, by the rules of the Judges, should fail her. However, Dredd notes, in the final words of the film, that “she’s a pass.”

Why would Dredd, such a stone-cold character who so unwaveringly believes in the absoluteness of the Judge’s laws, allow this transgression to not just go unpunished, but reward it? Because he has trusted her judgment. And by extension, so has the film. Dredd the movie gives Anderson, the female character, the moral high ground while simultaneously placing another female at the complete other end of the moral spectrum. The movie provides two female characters as the counterpoints to ideological struggle; sadism vs. empathy, cold logic vs. humane compassion, etc. Dredd starts off the film much closer to Ma-Ma’s end of the spectrum. He kills brutally throughout the film, but it’s to protect innocents. However, he feels no vindication in it; he just does his job. Anderson comes along and shakes that up.

judgeanderson2Instead of killing Ma-Ma’s operator, whom she has tortured by removing his eyes and terrified him throughout, Anderson lets him go, saying “he’s a victim.” Dredd would have thrown his ass in the iso-cubes and he tells her that her act constitutes a failure. But she doesn’t care. This would be a transgression in the film’s world and, in allegorical sense, a transgression in our world. This act upsets the enforced patriarchy that our world has because she has disobeyed the male authority figure. In most films, Anderson would be punished. But she is not; she’s vindicated. She survives and she gains Judgeship.

As another act of female independence, she beats Kay mentally and physically. When she first breaks into his mind, he visualizes raping her in order to scare her. However, she quickly regains control and tricks him into giving up the crucial information she and Dredd went to Peach Trees for in the first place. Then, in the third act, she kills him and the everybody else holding her hostage.

Women in cinema are almost never afforded this opportunity. They are usually to be rescued and/or defined by the male character. Instead, Anderson is her own character and works with Dredd’s characterization. They bounce off each other to create the film’s subtextual argument over the kind of justice Dredd exercises vs. the kind of justice, empathetic but effective, that Anderson later exercises.

Anderson’s empathy comes from her psychic powers. By infiltrating a person’s psyche, she gains understanding of their situation. Understanding breeds empathy, because it is what we don’t know that scares us most. Her knowledge of people’s dire situations gives her a compassion that Dredd lacks. This superior knowledge over a man and her ability to read minds also constitute a breach in the natural order of not just Dredd’s world, but ours, metaphorically. She can invade privacy, convince you of things that aren’t real, and fuck with you in ways that will literally end you. Since she’s a woman, that upsets the patriarchal view that “men have the power.” As I said before and as Lara Mulvey wrote in her seminal essay “VIsual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema,” she would be punished. But she isn’t.

Ma-Ma

But while Ma-Ma is punished, it’s important to note that she isn’t punished for being a woman in a man’s world. Her judgment from Dredd and her subsequent punishment come from her criminality, not her femininity. It’s an act of genre, not misogyny. A man who performed all of the acts that she did in power would also get put down by Dredd. And even though I’m arguing this is a feminist movie, I think there are legitimately good narrative and thematic reasons as to why Dredd throws her out the window and Anderson doesn’t get to kill her for a couple reasons. One, it’s because the movie is called Dredd and not Anderson. Two, Anderson gets shot. But it’s mainly because Dredd was always going to be the one to carry out the film’s absolute, final punishment. He is the veteran and the firm believer in his system, after all. Anderson supposedly failed her test, as well, at that point.

But at the very end, Dredd says “she’s a pass.”  And while it is the male authoritative figure with the final word on her pass or fail, it is the female who has introduced the new ideas into the film’s fiction and the main character, who approves. To top it all off, Dredd’s superior is a woman, as well.

In my original review, I said “[Dredd’s] mission is not be a meaningful film.” I still believe that the original goal of the filmmakers was to make a simply “fun” movie, but I’ve discovered there is a lot of meaning in this otherwise unassuming movie. I won’t say it is a perfect vehicle for feminism. There are only five female characters with speaking lines, two of whom aren’t named and another one of whom is named simply “Chief Judge.” And the main character, the draw of the film, and the person gracing the poster is a dude. But in a landscape of bullshit and half-assery, Dredd looms large above them in quality and representation.