Monday, 28 September 2020
Thursday, 24 September 2020
Lupin III: The First signals a fresh direction for the series - a computer-generated, back-to-basics, feature designed to appeal to as large a global audience as possible. Possessed of a consistent beauty, The First takes tonal cues from Hayao Miyazaki's The Castle of Cagliostro, presenting Lupin as a fair-minded gentleman thief rather than the elasticated cad seen in Monkey Punch's early Weekly Manga Action strips. Director Takashi Yamazaki's two-dimensional approach to dramatic staging is atypical (especially in the context of free-wheeling animation), largely focused on how each of the finely rigged CG characters inhabits the film's delightfully lit environments. Scenes are blocked to demonstrate the minutiae of the performance being extracted from these expertly sculpted recreations; Lupin and co used as if they are marionettes, playing to flat, scratch built, sets.
It's an unusual approach, one that stands largely unopposed outside of The First's many exhilarating, motorised, action sequences. The one dramatic exception comes late in the film, describing the betrayal of a Neo-Nazi sect by a mad scientist named Lambert. Finally in possession of the an ancient super-weapon, the self-impressed backstabber rants and raves, destroying the film's leather-bound McGuffin. In these moments Lambert's face fills the screen, his mouth motoring at an obscene, spit-flecked pace. Conversely, subordinate characters are positioned at the edge of their frames, as if attempting to creep away from this outrage. This momentary dynamism starkly different from the icy distance Yamazaki otherwise insists be between the viewer and his idealisation of Monkey Punch's cast. Never less than handsome, The First also finds time to evoke the silent call-and-response relationship the big screen series has enjoyed with avowed (and appreciative) fan Steven Spielberg, recycling a moment or two from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. If only The First had exterminated adherents of The Third Reich with the same unbridled glee.
Wednesday, 23 September 2020
Tuesday, 22 September 2020
Beginning with the gentleman thief's execution, Lupin III: The Mystery of Mamo (also known as Secret of Mamo, Lupin III: Lupin vs The Clone or, simply, Lupin III) quickly locks itself into a pattern of episodic action. The film is a series of vignettes, loosely arranged around a plot that slowly inches its way towards secret histories and supernatural intrigue. Mystery of Mamo operates like a riff then, with director Soji Yashikawa and co-writer Atsushi Yamatoya feeding Monkey Punch's elasticated bandits into ceaseless, wonderfully arranged spectacle. Motorbikes snake around inside the Giza Necropolis; a liquid lunch in Paris is gatecrashed by an attack helicopter that machine guns dozens of innocent bystanders to pieces.
Mamo's many chases blur together, immediately overwhelming the central story to the point where frantic pursuits and death-defying feats become the film's primary method of communication. The best of these processions plays out like Chuck Jones' interpretation of Steven Spielberg's Duel - Lupin and the gang crammed into a red BMC Mini while an enormous, frowning, 18-Wheeler smashes everything else off the road. Police patrol cars and metal crash barriers included. Yashikawa and his animations are dizzy with big screen possibilities, the TMS crew quite apparently using their theatrical-sized budget to speed through every interlude or set-piece denied to them while working on the less extravagantly budgeted Lupin the Third Part I and Lupin the Third Part II television series. The result? Beautifully animated incoherence that works tremendously hard to be constantly, breathlessly, entertaining.
Monday, 21 September 2020
Alone explores threat as a sustained, escalating, note, denying viewers any level of release by refusing to leave the assailed's side. We're in this with them. Jules Willcox's Jessica is introduced packing up her meagre belongings before she departs for a self-imposed isolation. Jessica is, straight out the gate, portrayed as forthright and adaptable, willing to abandon well-appointed furniture and a healthy looking house plant rather than wait around for help. She avoids speaking to her mother, waiting until she is a significant distance away from her family before she allows the nagging in. Jessica desires loneliness, her every action labouring towards a peaceful, solitary space. The first crime committed by Marc Menchaca's otherwise unnamed Man then is that he intrudes.
Before Man has made his intentions clear, Alone works to put you in the headspace of a young woman travelling hundreds of miles on her own. A cigarette break at a reasonably busy truck stop simmers with ambient menace - the camera tracking back-and-forth, following the dawdling men, simulating the calculations going on in Jessica's mind. How close is he? Where is that guy going? Is that man coming this way? Similarly, Man's Bundy-esque attempts to trick Jessica into putting herself at risk repeatedly fail. Her antennae is already up. Director John Hyams and screenwriter Mattias Olsson (the writer-director of Gone, the Swedish film on which Alone is based) are priming you for an abnormal serial killer thriller. One in which the The Final Girl is the first girl. Jessica a born fighter, able to meet the challenges put in front of her, battling in every moment until she's the one holding a bloody car wrench, the weapon held low in a Waki-gamae sword stance, ready to strike.
Response to Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War's alpha seems to be mixed, with many disappointed that this year's title delivers less of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare's audio-visual luxury. Absolutely Treyarch (and Activision Shanghai, Beenox, High Moon Studios and Raven Software)'s game is less interested in gun club fidelity but Cold War's overall sound design is much more readable. Foot steps in particular were superb in this Alpha, allowing players to make quick decisions based on reliable, actionable, audio feedback. That's something that Modern Warfare, particularly Call of Duty: Warzone, has never quite achieved.
My personal complaints are the latency issues that always seem to plague the Treyarch releases - opposition players and their weapons pointing in completely different directions to the way they're actually firing or the broken camera angles that mean what you're seeing and what your opponent are seeing never quite synchronise. The latter most often expressed in killcam watching that sees your character bounding into frame and taking hits, following a confrontation were you never even saw a pixel of your assassin. Balance wise, scorestreaks are heavily weighted towards the end of matches, when the dune snipers have finally amassed enough points to unleash Huey helicopters, meaning otherwise sedate games can become meat grinders in their dying seconds. Still the classic run-and-gun gameplay is obviously there and, thankfully, weighted towards players who seek confrontation rather than vertical power positions.
Sunday, 20 September 2020
Saturday, 19 September 2020
A quick look at the Miami level in the Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Alpha. This is the first game I really broke away from the pack and started going on decent streaks (well, the second - the PS4's Share feature is so fussy about how it's accessed, superseding inputs when you're, understandably, fretting about the eternity of vulnerability you're exposing yourself to just by calling it). So far, I'm really enjoying shotguns as secondary weapons - nothing beats cycling to a SPAS when you're much too close to a circling enemy.
Friday, 18 September 2020
Thursday, 17 September 2020
Based on a novel written by Vampire Hunter D creator Hideyuki Kikuchi, A Wind Named Amnesia is the episodic tale of Wataru, a young man who has slowly regained his wits following a cataclysmic world event that has robbed humanity of their intelligence. Directed by Kazuo Yamazaki and co-written by Yamazaki, Kenji Kurata and Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Amnesia deals with a post-apocalyptic setting free of rape gangs and cannibalism, Amnesia dialling down the desperation to match the sunny, positivity of its teenage lead. Yamazaki's film is closer to a YA action-adventure than a dirge detailing the planet's funeral rights.
Amnesia never creeps anywhere near the savage masculinity you'd expect from a Go Nagai or Buronson joint, the slathering primitives that now make up mankind are less a threat here and more a curiosity. Instead it's the remnants of the old world that impact on Wataru and his otherworldly companion Sophia. The massive, malfunctioning computers and city-sized excavators (that previously massaged society), splutter out of control, single-mindedly pursuing their last inputted command. The skittish, fearful survivors attempt to cater to these broken titans, locking themselves into cycles of strange, all-consuming compulsion.
Sophia, the white-haired psychic Wataru meets along the way, is impressed that Earth's people are bouncing back so quickly from oblivion, noting that, previously, it took mankind centuries to latch onto blood sacrifice as a means of establishing equilibrium with a chaotic environment. Amnesia's tone is similarly anthropological, an alien observation filtered through the surface level understanding of a shell-shocked teenager. When the undead mech that pursues the couple throughout is finally defeated, Sophia reveals her true nature and how it is tied to the untold suffering visited on humankind. Wataru takes this appalling news in his stride, likely because Sophia is disrobing and offering herself to him right when he hears it.
Between the tumble-down houses, castle objective and a cheeky merchant, Resident Evil Village is looking very much like a conscious update of Capcom's Gamecube masterpiece Resident Evil 4. Say goodbye to your tank controlled Leon S Kennedy though, subbed out for an atmospheric, first-person harassment, as your player character dodges amoral cults and former allies alike.
As a child I used to buy White Dwarf magazine, not so much to keep abreast of Games Workshop's various complicated board games but because I was fascinated by the creativity that went into painting the company's lead figurines. Browsing the shop section at the back of the mag you'd see the raw model - colourless and obviously struck from a mould. This dull uniformity could be transformed though, taken apart and customised until they represented a distinct, personal, imagination.
Every year some auxiliary event held a diorama competition with the winners and runners-up displayed in White Dwarf. These were by far the best issues, pages crammed with mini-events and outrages. Towering, apocalyptic scenes besides quiet, comedic moments. If the artist was really confident, you might see one carefully painted knight stood on top of a polished wooden base, a piece that looked exactly like the kind of award you'd expect from this very event. That's exactly what Bluepoint's take on Demon's Souls reminds me of. An interactive rush through successive, beautifully appointed, dark fantasy scenes.
Hats off to Capcom, they know how to generate hype when they're re-releasing their games. The power of the next-gen systems is harnessed here to generate throngs of enemies; a standing-room-only horde, absolutely desperate to be beaten up. Presumably these ditherers are showing off a Legendary Dark Knight difficulty mode for Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition, a now well-established option for the series, when making generational leaps, that focuses on bombarding the player with monster spawns.
Wednesday, 16 September 2020
Kate Lyn Sheil's Amy knows she going to die. She's certain of it. She rambles around her newly purchased house, passing over her packed-up possessions to focus on making her final moments elegiac and meaningful. Amy picks at and smooths her finger along driftwood; Mozart spins ceaselessly on her record player. She browses online stores, determined to hit upon a method that will allow her remains to be put to good use. It's all a reach, a straining attempt to organise Amy's final moments in a way that befits the life she has led. That's one reaction to airborne, impending doom. Other characters in Amy Seimetz's She Dies Tomorrow respond in drastically different ways. The film's infection is verbal, a communicable dread that passes along conversational chains before burrowing into a person's psyche, mutating their behaviour.
Beginning with an unseen food service slogger, no doubt pressed into work despite their ailment, She Dies Tomorrow's disease is an unwelcome revelation, a sudden, revolting knowledge accompanied by cycling neon lights. Microscopic asides link the sickness to a shard of glass passing, with great determination, along a blood stream. Like Don McKeller's Last Night, the inevitable exacerbates, transforming everyday interactions into different kinds of psychosis. Dutiful sons end their sick father's lives and familial disquiet boils over into sloppy attempts at murder. Despite the disease's transmission method, communication stalls in Seimetz's film. There's never a clear consensus regarding the scale of death. Some infectees focus on their own passing; others are convinced that all life, not just human, is to end. Plainly disinterested in resolution, She Dies Tomorrow is happy to simply activate.
Brandon Cronenberg's Possessor traffics in cruelty, using a massive technological leap to explore discordant interior desires, specifically those that revolve around curdled ambitions. Andrea Riseborough plays Vos, the corporate mole best suited to being the human bullet in an MK-Ultra machine that combines trailing Hi-Fi wires with a strained approximation of comfort. Once strapped in, Vos is able to beam her thoughts and actions directly into a hijacked patsy, directing them to murder, or otherwise remove, the persons causing wrinkles for her paymasters.
Vos' broadcast inhabits the weak, personal, links in these money-making chains, exploiting the access the vessel provides for, apparently, massive monetary gain. Her handler, Jennifer Jason Leigh's Girder, talks up the fortunes and stock payments to come but Vos is disinterested - disconnected from everything but the act of psychic control. Vos' personal life amounts to a failed marriage and the child she has left behind. Crucially, even in this space Vos performs, practising, then actioning, the kind of disarming, casual pleasantries expected in a functioning relationship.
It's clear the connection to her ex, Michael, and their son, Ira, is frayed; Vos defaulting to platitudes to placate her child or gratification when dealing with the husband. Family is contextualised as a side-mission, a distraction that keeps Vos from her true calling. Possessor describes this work using the language of a debilitating illness; the procedure is messy and imprecise, an all-consuming business trip that offers an intoxicating state of otherness. Whatever kind of person Vos was before she embarked on this career path is irrelevant, she's a communicable idea now, one focused around plunging a knife into a lawyer's throat or the amount of pressure required to shatter a billionaire's jaw. Vos swims on the periphery, initially drunk on the power and immunity her missions provide, later a fading passenger in a link-up that has overstayed its welcome.
Sunday, 13 September 2020
Built around a critical but unhurried police investigation, Soylent Green allows its viewers to take a brief holiday in a near future choked with people. Richard Fleischer's film begins with a peppy montage, detailing the industrialisation of the land christened America. We see lush expanses ground underfoot by the relentless reproduction of grim, agitated looking humans. We see fledgling cities and endless manufacturing landscapes, initially separate but eventually intertwined and overwritten. Consumptive wealth, expressed as enormous concrete flats filled with identical motorcars, give way to poverty and destitution.
At first this introduction seems to be positing mankind's lot as cyclical, drawing a link between The Great Depression and the calamity just over the horizon. When an upswing fails to materialise, it becomes clear Soylent Green foretells entropy. Waste, destruction and total pollution accompanied by a docile, numbed humanity. Set in 2022, the film presents a tomorrow in which basic social niceties have completely collapsed. A green smog hangs six feet off the ground, seeping into everybody's face. Interiors are shot to be inspected, the audience asked to discern personal space or a lack thereof. Even the rich and powerful inhabit pokey, clinical apartments. Everybody sweats constantly.
Charlton Heston's cop, Thorn, has one ragged outfit, focused around a wringing wet neckerchief. Thorn billets in a box room with an elderly man, Edward G Robinson's Sol, who computes his roommate's cases. Sol is the brain. Thorn is the fist. Given opportunity to inspect crime scenes, Thorn creeps around, hoovering up knick-knacks and luxury items. This looting seems to be expected, a perk of having the kind of job that allows limited access to these rarefied spaces. Luxury apartments come with live-in mistresses who are referred to as furniture, Thorn assuming a sexual relationship with Leigh Taylor-Young's Shirl as brusquely as he pockets a bar of soap. All human interactions are positioned as openly transactional, operating on rules and customs out of our grasp. Everybody has submitted to this horror.
Saturday, 12 September 2020
Thursday, 10 September 2020
Wednesday, 9 September 2020
Despite being centred almost entirely around Sigourney Weaver, Alien: Resurrection registers as dashed off, even perfunctory. As a sequel it's a small-scale entry that repeats a lot of the hits but in a faltering, blubbery context, eventually proposing a massive course correction for the series that didn't actually end up going anywhere. Weaver plays Number 8, an imperfect clone of the Ellen Ripley who hurled herself into a lead furnace at the end of Alien³. This military-issue copy is, thanks to genetic tampering, a mutant. Reborn hundreds of years into the future, Eight is both physically and psychologically intertwined with the creature that once grew inside her - a human vessel that has overcome its infection and been irrecoverably changed in the process.
Eight then allows Weaver the opportunity to play a kind of alien empress, the mother of the majestic, pregnant menace at the centre of this sequel's malfunctioning space station. Disappointingly, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and screenwriter Joss Whedon never find the scenes or sequences that really tap into the odd, maternal, energy Weaver is broadcasting. Yes, Winona Ryder's neurotic human-trafficker Call does end up under Eight's wing but the connection is cursory. Similarly, the bond she has with her offspring is less about exploring a peculiar feeling of bereavement or the female dominated hierarchy of the alien race and more about finding a way for Eight to end up, unmolested, in the depths of a hive, witnessing the birth of an abomination.
Although Jeunet and cinematographer Darius Khondji find a variety of ways to keep the film's endless brass corridors visually interesting, the duo struggle when presented with ADI's sopping monsters. Mostly photographed as a mouth probing away at the camera, the special effects house obliterate all sense of detail by drowning the puppets in lubricants. Wider shots default to a CG model that not only exaggerates HR Giger's original bio-mechanoid to the point of parody but also blasts back every instance of light directed at it. The unholy ambulation seen in James Cameron's Aliens is abandoned too, arriving at a beast that moves like a massive instance of the scuttling insect seen in the opening of this fractionally longer Special Edition. The Newborn, Chris Cunningham's contribution to the xenomorph pantheon, fares worst of all; the Rubber Johnny director's diseased, tumescent concept art rendered here as kin to Pizza the Hutt from Spaceballs.
JackFrags sounds a bit on the devastated side to report that Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War has moved away from the more (ahem) tactical movement and gameplay seen in Infinity Ward's last entry, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, returning to the roaming, arcade action seen in the previous Black Ops games. Frankly, I couldn't be happier. Although my first-person ability is way past its prime, I could never get into an interactive model that incentivised hiding and creeping over the rush of ambushing clueless players.
Sunday, 6 September 2020
Saturday, 5 September 2020
Soldier makes an awful first impression. The audience is immediately assaulted with disconnected gun sounds - cannon reports so stock and overused that they register as redundant rather than foreboding or exciting. The opening credits font goes one better, with a Stencil type on loan from television's The A-Team. Desperate to position itself as Blade Runner adjacent - mainly via winking data read-outs - Soldier fumbles its own intrigue with a graceless presentation and an initial editing dynamic utterly at odds with the esoteric end of speculative science fiction. Eventually though, Paul WS Anderson's film develops a steady but intense rhythm, one largely thanks to the choices Kurt Russell makes describing his lonely mamluk.
Dumped on top of an intergalactic refuse heap after an unsuccessful run-in with his replacement (Jason Scott Lee's genetically engineered infantryman, Caine), Russell's toyetic Sergeant Todd is rescued by the inhabitants of this junk planet. These scrounger Samaritans nurse Todd back to health, attempting to integrate this displaced muscle monster into their society. The soldier struggles to connect with these nuclear families though. Raised from birth to win and kill, Todd cannot seem to grasp anything else. Anderson, screenwriter David Webb Peoples and Russell balance their film on this premise, reducing Todd's arc to sweeping action rather than stuttering insight. We don't see emotional walls come tumbling down, Todd takes very little from his new community other than it meets the criteria of an objective; one that he wants to protect from the kitbash drop ships, bearing down.
Although Soldier obviously terminates in extreme conflict, the film nonetheless raises themes of arrested emotional development. Connie Nielsen's Sandra would, in a lesser piece, be eager to assume the role of love interest for the very strong and very silent Sergeant Todd. Here his sexless fascination with the contents of her hemp sweater seems closer to a child's innate yearning for maternal connection. Sandra's husband, Sean Pertwee's Mace, is never subordinated or positioned as physically weak either. On the contrary, Mace is closer to a patient step-father, one trying to puzzle out the bad-wiring in his new charge's head. Similarly, there's no hate in the climactic head-to-head between Todd and Caine. The fight's assembly even features a couple of incredulous glances between the two, as if both men recognise some deeper, unspoken connection that they are unable to interpret. Possessed of a real sadness, Soldier is, essentially, The Remains of the Day for cheery meat heads.
Thursday, 3 September 2020
Tuesday, 1 September 2020
Sylvester Stallone removing his helmet fifteen minutes into Judge Dredd isn't the end of the world. Danny Cannon's film is canny enough to play this moment as a reveal - not only a formal introduction to the feature actor, it's also a first for the character, representing (a few gag panels aside) a massive divergence from the 2000 AD source material. As Stallone raises the futuristic sallet, the camera snakes around from behind his head, slowly examining the fade of his haircut before coming to rest on the star's face. The military drumming of Alan Silvestri's wonderfully pompous score underlines the action by striking to attention.
It helps that Stallone looks, more or less, like how you'd imagine the veteran Judge would - the actor not very far off from the snarling mug Simon Bisley eventually painted over when illustrating 1991's Batman/Judge Dredd: Judgment on Gotham crossover comic. Structurally, the film is front-loaded. The detail William Wisher Jr and Steven E de Souza's screenplay plunders from the character's mega-history much more evident in this, relatively serious, first act. As the film goes on though, the stress marks start to show. This is less an attempt to accurately portray John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra's deathless creation and more about using a dynamic, comic, property as the motor for an American action film.
Although originally an ironic (now prescient) look at an America warped by fascism, Judge Dredd is decoded as European here. The future-shocked power structure examined in dynastic, almost courtly, terms. Dredd - the city's best knight - is the monastic Lancelot, a fanatic who fights to honour the principles of his King, in this instance Max von Sydow's Chief Justice Fargo. These feudal terms are especially useful because Judge Dredd's ruling class do not recognise that they are perpetuating a dictatorship. They're wrapped up in their own legend. Round table meetings are sprinkled with a hypocritical hand-wringing utterly at odds with the summary executions we have just witnessed Dredd perform.
Similarly, Judges found to be breaking the law are allowed their day in court, as well as hand-selected legal representation, a privilege that towers over the instant, curb-side justice Mega City One's civilian population are subjected to. This dichotomy, not to mention the specific situation that puts Dredd in the bad books, has a root in the original comics. 1978-79's The Day The Law Died depicted Dredd, framed for murder by a robot doppelganger, appearing before the city's highest ranking Judges to decide his fate. Naturally, the sequence appearing in 2000 AD is designed to give its young readers another angle on power and the pantomimes it performs to appear egalitarian.
This is Judge Dredd: The Movie in a nutshell. It recognises Dredd and his environment as singular, a fresh recalibration of dour, politically engaged, 70s science-fiction and the muscle films that Stallone helped pioneer. Here, for a mid-90s blockbuster, the concept's alienness needs dialling back, so we're served a police state that has been massaged for mass consumption, complete with false, inconsistent, ethics and Rob Schneider's comedy capering. The Dredd character and his stories are picked apart, transformed into a greatest hits package that reaches across decades of work for grist - never mind if these parts actually fit together. The Cursed Earth is demoted from a radioactive hell to a lawless bad-lands; the stranglehold of a demented Chief Judge reduced to a coup that never really reverberates beyond the Hall of Justice; The Judge Child Quest's Angel Gang, while retaining their violent incompetence, are changed into God-bothering cannibals.
It's a comparatively minor Dredd story, Tale of the Dead Man, that receives the most astute disassembly in Cannon's film. In Wagner, Will Simpson and Jeff Anderson's 1990 story Dredd is the flagging veteran who refuses to declare his brainwashed clone bother Kraken fit for active duty. When faced with push-back, Dredd resigns then leaves the city to wander the wasteland. De Souza and Wisher Jr's screenplay takes this basic idea - the sins of the knockoff - and shifts the pieces around. Dredd's role goes to Chief Justice Fargo, the man who provided the genetic blueprint for Dredd and a character usually depicted as long dead before Dredd reaches adulthood. Fargo is used here to communicate the past and weight of the Dredd mythos. He's both a proxy and the elderly master who allows Stallone's thick, middle-aged, Dredd to register as comparatively youthful.
Sydow's Fargo verbalises a personal history specific to the comic Dredd, the youthful indoctrination and the (now) creeping doubts. Stallone's Dredd is therefore re-positioned into the role of a usurper - the faulty replication who pollutes then undermines his superior's career. Like Kraken, Stallone's Dredd is so devoted to appearing rigid in the face of an unfair judgement that he robotically complies with the consequences, allowing himself to be shipped off to the film's Aspen penal colony. Notably, comic Dredd's sense of personal justice cannot be imposed upon. In The Day The Law Died, when Judge Cal attempted to have Dredd shipped off to a similar holding, the imprisoned Judge revolted, lashing his guard with the chains that held him before hijacking the spaceship that was supposed to carry him off to a prison at the other end of the solar system.
Rico, Dredd's clone brother, is similarly designed as an approximation of extant stories rather than an attempt to adapt the character on the page. Pat Mills and Mike McMahon's Rico is a former Judge sentenced to hard labour on one of Saturn's moons after he is discovered running a protection racket. Rather than waste money outfitting this perp with an expensive atmosphere suit, comic Rico was physically modified - a mechanical breathing apparatus stitched into his face; his mouth, nose and ears sewn up. Armand Assante's take suffers no such augmentation, the character's mechanical aspect exported to an ABC Warrior bodyguard, a wonderful, hydraulic, brute imported from an otherwise unconnected 2000 AD and Starlord strip. Like his brother, this Rico is a muddle of contradictory ideas, at times even muttering with the same sweeping, genocidal, rhetoric as the dimension-hopping zombie (and frequent Dredd foe) Judge Death.
Later in the film Rico is heard claiming to be a revolutionary, Dredd seemingly agreeing with this reading by correcting that Rico actually started a riot, an act that recalls the Democracy storylines that ran in 2000 AD during the late 80s and early 90s. Neither framing really goes anywhere. Assante's Rico is stuck between Wisher and de Souza's drafts, functioning as a target and very little else. Cannon's Judge Dredd is best described then as a visual treat, a special effects showcase that dutifully follows the blueprint drawn up by Ezquerra, McMahon, Brian Bolland, Ron Smith, Colin MacNeil and the dozens of other incredible artists who have shaped Dredd's world. Structurally though, the film becomes more ungainly as it blusters on - Schneider's role ballooning from a comedy sidekick to a full-on Greek chorus, commenting on and deconstructing events even as they unfold.
The film slips away from Cannon and the art department's obviously sincere intentions, devolving into knockabout, meretricious, violence with Stallone the lunkheaded performer, rather than Judge Dredd the character, as the film's motor. So, on a quest to clear his name, this Dredd wastes umpteen fellow Judges, detonates several housing blocks (presumably full of innocent families) and, maybe most bizarrely, fails to follow the logic of his own, artificial, creation. When confronted with Rico's undercooked facsimiles, Dredd spits the invective 'things' at his newborn brothers and sisters; cocking his massive shotgun as their pained bodies slither out of their chrome pupa. These are the moments that really damage the film, flying in the face of any connection or vulnerability that Dredd's previous disrobing might otherwise prickle. Despite all this, it's difficult to argue with the film's opening scenes - James Earl Jones' booming voice getting us up to speed on the film's grim backstory then a sequence featuring The Statue of Liberty, dwarfed here by obnoxious, holographic, adverts.
Stallone's performance is at its best in these early moments too. His introduction, in the midst of a shoot-out between two adjacent skyscrapers, doesn't just give us our first look at the Judge's golden armour - credited to Gianni Versace - it allows the film to briefly position the character in the same absurd, ironic, terms as the original comic. Unshakeable under heavy gunfire, this Dredd is so assured he seems to exist slightly out of phase with reality. He's a multi-dimensional being who imposes his own bizarre will on his environment. An apartment block full of assault rifle-toting squatters? A mere trifle for this lawman. In scenes that mix the first published Dredd strip Judge Whitey and Wagner, Mills and Ezquerra's rejected Bank Raid (deemed too violent in 1977, this original introduction was eventually cleaned up and published in Judge Dredd Annual 1981), Dredd calmly blasts the lot, making excellent use of his Lawgiver pistol's ludicrously specific ammunition settings.