Violence Done Well


This post is about good violence, and to be clear–the only good violence is fictional violence. Now that we got that out of the way, what does good fictional violence do that bad fictional violence doesn’t? Answer: It delivers the message the author intends, strengthens the story, and advances the plot.

In the past couple of years, two films have stood out to me for their unique portrayals of violence: Dredd and Deadpool. Bothe were relatively low budget films that did far better than expected, and I believe the reason is that they each did a great job of communicating their very different messages. They are both extremely violent movies, but each takes a very different approach to the killing and gore that’s worth note.

Will start with Dredd. This movie is based on the 1980s comic book series Judge Dredd that since has obtained cult status. The comic books were a response to the over the top action films being made in America at that time. The hero, Judge Dredd is grim, but he is somehow the only answer to the crime and disorder that run rampant in the future streets of Mega City One. The film Dredd takes us into that world of Mega City One with all its over the top violence and chaos but does not glamorize the violence in any way. In fact, the film suggests that violence just begets more violence, and if you really want to solve a problem you have to look elsewhere.

In Dredd, the violent actions of the heroes do not make the world a safer place. Sure, they shut down one drug ring. But the audience knows there are other criminal enterprises loose in the city and there aren’t enough judges to stop them all. The only thing Judge Dredd and his fellows can do is stick their fingers in the dike and hope the city doesn’t drown in blood. The villains are evil–sure. We see MaMa heartlessly kill innocents time and again to preserve her position in society. However, we also see the Judges perform summary executions of criminals who we later learn were family men. In each case, the violence is tragic, and the movie’s great photography and practical effects serve to emphasize, not glamorize, that fact.

Deadpool is another kettle of kittens altogether. In Deadpool the violence is FUN. With the exception of one particular victim of the villain’s (ironically, a family man again), we feel nothing for the corpses Deadpool strews in his wake. Frankly, I was reluctant to see the film at first because, in general, I don’t find violence funny. However, the acting, timing, and effects work perfectly to paint a kind of Looney Toon’s reality wherein we can relax and enjoy the mayhem. Face it we’ve all had fantasies of bashing in the face of somebody who’s wronged us. We almost never do it, because we don’t want to go to jail–but oh…we do fantasize. In this film, we get to vicariously live out that fantasy, and by doing so we leave the theater relaxed and happy now that we got that off out chest.

So there you have it…good fictional violence.

Dredd explores the evils of violence and how it can never truly solve our problems. Deadpool, allows us to indulge in the fantasy that it can and are thus relieved of the desire to actually punch our boss in the face (at least until Monday). In each case, the violence serves to strengthen the story and deliver a message. Conversely, bad violence (other than the real kind) is just shoved into a story for shock or to fill a lull in the plot. I have read far too many novels and seen far too many movies that do violence badly. It’s nice to appreciate when they get it right.

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