So, yeah, this is my overthinking all the minutae, I'm-getting-a-bit-obsessed slightly meta essay about Dredd. Again, did not see this coming.
(And, Ha! I finally realised the Chief Judge was Annoying Nurse Kayla from Holby. Well damn. The accent and the hair and the not-whining kinda threw me apparently.)
But, on that note, I didn't even realise she was actually the boss of all the Judges first time I watched it - which makes for an interesting watch, because that means there's a woman heading up the Judges, and, of course, Ma-Ma ruling the rest of the setting. Not that that ends brilliantly for Ma-Ma as such, but it's another example of why you bring contemporary expectations to watching Dredd that don't necessarily fit so well. As per usual, I have no issues at all with Our Heroes being engaged in ultraviolence (that was what used to be so amusing about Legend of the Seeker - all the blather about the protagonists being heroic, when they had the highest body count of the entire show. But at least they did it in stylish slo-mo... oh, wait a sec, I'm seeing a pattern here!). What is refreshing is how casually it's all handled - the expectation subverted when Anderson hesitates before executing the guy outside the Med Centre, but then goes right ahead and does it. And how we're expected to feel when she realises later that the guy had a life, a family - who she's coerced into helping them hide out. But it's about levels and layers of practicality - if you're not purely enjoying this on a popcorn movie level, are you being invited to judge what is supposedly keeping civilisation in some small order? Like Kick-Ass, you're becoming culpable by watching.
There are so many little things that bear watching again - Anderson's ongoing mindgames with Kay... and Dredd staying the hell out of intervening. Because the psychic stuff isn't his area of expertise? And he just lets the much smaller girl manhandle the nasty burly criminal around the entire time because it's, what, grunt work for the rookie? Even more notably, most of the time Kay just accepts being pushed around by her... it helps that she can tell half the time when he's thinking of making a break for it I guess. How the sexual politics are as nasty as anything else the plot has to offer, but mostly everyone just gets on with it with no comment at all. Although - is Ma-Ma intentionally trying to spare Anderson at the point where she insists the only thing the gang does is shoot her? Because she's a girl, or because they both share the same taste in shaggy haircuts?! Because Dredd suggests the same thing a little while before (ooh, mirroring!), and it's about as merciful as this universe gets apparently.
Also, Anderson is remarkably... well, I want to say lippy, for a newbie, but brave may be more accurate. She sticks to her guns (except literally for that one time when... well.), is proud of why she wants to be a judge, and every time she disagrees with Dredd, she has the guts to say so, and stick to it (cos he's kinda scary). Even more interestingly, he defers to her - aside from that one time when he's decided that he's really had enough and they're going to go get Ma-Ma right now. Even then, it's not a big shouting match but a calmly reasoned appraisal, complete with an explanation of why they're now going for a slightly more suicidal course of action. I get that it's part of her assessment, but it's interesting. And a little unexpected. The best part is her sparing poor Domnhall Gleason's unnamed techie (oh the eyes!!) because he's a victim, and she's going to do things right, dammit... Dredd questions, but totally lets her get away with it (unless that gaping bullet wound is softening him up at that point of course. How did he dress the entrance wound on his back with absolutely no help, come to that?!).
I'm still a little perturbed that her entire survival rested on firstly Ma-Ma being really slow at making sure she died, and the fact that Kay decided to use her own gun to kill her, and had no knowledge of the self-destruct ID check, but I guess she would have known what he was thinking, right? It's still more rational than Dredd somehow knowing Anderson would show up in time to save him afterwards, so long as the Bad Judge monologued for a couple of minutes. Anderson's the psychic, after all, and I'm not sure how Dredd could hear her coming if nobody else could. It is still awesome that she saves him, mind (and, the ID check just works on Judges, right, so she took the female Judge's gun?).
And how quiet everyone is - Ma-Ma rarely raises her voice (except for that one time), and Dredd, especially, rarely speaks above a growl... I really, really love what Karl Urban does with that. Because the temptation is obviously not to do that (although, as a point of reference: take what Stallone did and do the exact opposite).
And it's not like there aren't loud moments in it - specifically the never-ending, loud-as-all-fuck bit where they massacre about a gazillion extras by firing an anti-aircraft gun across the atrium. And that part becomes a watermark - it's the only part where Ma-Ma shouts at all, and the only part where she does use a gun (because Ma-Ma, tellingly, likes knives. And thumbs? And, apparently, teeth. Ick.). And - most amusingly - it's the only bit where Dredd swears and gets a little bit rattled (aside from getting shot, but he even does that quietly) . It's never not amusing that this is an 18 rated film, and the main character only says 'shit' once. This is obviously ignoring the fact that the rating is entirely for all the shots of bullets ripping people apart in extreme slow motion (OK, and them being blown up, and skinned and dropped from a really really great height, and incinerated alive!) - that's it. You couldn't bring the rating down because making ultraviolence strangely beautiful is very much part of the USP here.
Ma-Ma gets more intriguing the more you watch it, because your attention isn't necessarily focused on her first time around. It's a nice counterpoint that she and Dredd are both operating under the same expectation of being obeyed without having to throw their weight around or raise their voice as such. Lena Heady mostly does everything with that slightly dreamy junkie reluctance, half lost to something else (how do you operate so effectively on Slo-Mo, a drug that makes you basically crap at everything back in the real world?!), but still quietly viscious with it. It's not actually her idea to give the original vics Slo-Mo before they get chucked over the balcony - just Kay's, and she OKs it, which almost makes her grand finale swan-dive a little OTT on Dredd's part... Oh, alright, no, I can't say that with a straight face after she machine-gunned an entire corridor full of innocent people. But still. She's almost got an air of TDK's Joker about her, all half-rubbed make-up and tell-tale scars. I'm almost loving that her gang sign is a stylised heart, because it says so much about her (also, loving her full name. It's like something medieval.)
One of my absolute favourite scenes is the last elevator ride back down... Ma-Ma's been dealt with - fortunately without blowing the entire building up, more thanks to a crappy range on that receiver and it not being a dead man's switch than Dredd's actually knowing it was safe to do that - everyone's stopped shooting at them, finally (mostly because they've been, uh, judged), and Dredd's kind of holding Anderson up/patching up her bullet wound. And I can never work out if she's staring into space or trying to read him, because you still can't see anything of his eyes. It's absolutely silent and strangely sweet, in a teamwork kind of way. Although he's a bastard and doesn't tell her she's passed until after she handed her badge over and stormed off at the end... I can't for the life of me tell if the Judge approaching her in Anderson's final shot is Dredd. It would make sense, as he needs to give her badge back, but it's never quite clear. The last we see of him, he's speeding off on his bike alone again, but is that just the beginning scene replaying (like the narration is)? Because their dysfunctional reluctant team dynamic is the backbone of the whole film, and she has proved she's handy to have around (and apparently the only one there who believes in what they're doing as much as he does... with a bit of added psychic compassion chucked in, of course.). Hell, yeah, I can absolutely watch this one again.
It's been a really, really good year for films so far.. I don't think I'd ever hit four repeat cinema trips for anything until MI4, and then Avengers went and made it a new record of 5 within a few months - which was almost odd, because a lot of what I could see were the problems first time I watched that. Except you came out wanting to see it again right this second - so, two viewings in 4 days that time, and it just kept racking up. And it never got boring, or repetitive, and if anything it gets better - which is good, because the DVD is arriving tomorrow :o)