Dredd was released in 2012, but it has already achieved a cult devotion. The post movie release hype from my friends and practically everyone I know on the internet has been all good, so I in turn got excited about seeing it. Well, Dredd is film that belongs in the pantheon of totally kick ass movies. The hard R, sci-fi setting, the cool as ice dialog, the sheer bad assery of Judge Dredd put it in the same realm as movies like Robocop and Aliens.
I’ve been told that if fans are vocal enough a sequel can get made, so this is my attempt at telling the world to see it if you haven’t and to talk about how great it is, while putting forth my request for a Dredd sequel. One Dredd sequel please!
(Note: I kept the first part of this spoiler free, spoilers after the notice)
First up, I must talk about Judge Dredd the character for a moment. Judge Dredd is a comic book character from the UK that has been around since the 1970s. I’ve never read any Judge Dredd comics. Most Americans will know Judge Dredd from the rather silly 1990s movie version staring Sylvester Stalone. And therein lies the biggest problem with Dredd, Stalone’s Judge Dredd casts a very long shadow that more than likely turned casual movie goers away. I can imagine the response being, “They’re remaking Judge Dredd? Why?!” not realizing that it’s not a re-make, but rather another movie that just happens to be based on the same character.
Anyway, Dredd exceeds with it’s gritty realism. Mega City One looks and feels like a real place. It’s a massive urban sprawl surrounded by irradiated desert. There’s no flying cars or motorcycles, just a city full of people in a post apocalyptic setting. The film had a real Mad Max vibe if the world of Mad Max happened to have a giant city. The only question I had left unanswered about Mega City One was where in the hell do they grow enough food for all the people if there’s no farm land… Anyway, I’ve read that there are aliens and robots in the comics. In the world of this movie you don’t see any of that and I think it’s one reason why it works. It’s grounded in a reality, yet its sci-fi without going too over the top. If there ever is a sequel, I might see some sort of industrial robots, but it’s really the people and the realness that works for this version of Mega City One.
The story is where Dredd shines. It’s a rather basic affair, but in the basic structure we’re given a ton of action and lots of gems. Too many movies of this sort try to over reach, hell look at the over the top 1995 Judge Dredd for an example of that.
In Dredd, Judge Dredd is tasked with assessing a new recruit who is on the bubble of failure. The two go to the scene of a murder where they end up being trapped and hunted by a violent gang. You don’t get a needless origin story, you don’t really have a bad guy threatening to destroy the world, you just have Dredd and his partner trying to survive in a sort of sci-fi version of Die Hard. Within this structure the screenwriter Alex Garland fits in details and character beats that fill out the world of Dredd as well as dropping some twists and surprises along the way. I won’t name them here, it’s best if you see it for yourself.
As I mentioned before with a comparison to Robocop, Dredd is an R rated movie for a reason. The violence in Dredd isn’t toned down at all to appeal to stupid kids. It was one of the few modern action movies that had me feeling squeamish. I think that violence has much more impact if you get that kind of reaction. Don’t get me wrong, I liked G.I. Joe: Retaliation a whole lot, but when people are getting cut up with swords, yet there’s no blood on the sword… that lessens the impact of the violence. In Dredd people are shot in slow motion and not only gives you a sense of the fragility of life, it also increases the fear that the antagonists can get killed or hurt badly in this world of ultra painful violence.
Judge Dredd is played by Karl Urban who does a fantastic job, though his physicality is a little lacking at times. i don’t need a huge beast, but sometimes he seems kind of a little too normal in size. Also his frowning reminded me of grumpy cat. I think the frown / scowl works a little bit better in comic art that in does in real life. Still, he really sold Judge Dredd as a total bad ass.
His partner, Anderson, played by Olivia Thirlby, is more of the focus than Judge Dredd in a lot of ways. While Judge Dredd goes through a little bit of a character arc, it’s really Anderson who experiences and changes the most. Usually I hate when a character is brought on board so the audience can relate to what is going on. The worst offender of this I can remember is Tom Sawyer in League of Extraordinary Gentleman followed by John Myers in Hellboy. Aside from the fact that Anderson is automatically better than those examples because she’s actually a character in the Judge Dredd comic books, the fact is that in Dredd Anderson isn’t just a one dimensional portal for the viewer. She has doubts about her role, she has flaws and makes mistakes, she has an interesting background, and we care about what happens to her. Most importantly, she’s an incredibly strong female character.
The third character of note is the head bad guy, Ma Ma, played by Lena Headey. While Ma Ma was menacing and had a great back story and is one of the few villain women that isn’t a sexy temptress, I feel that there was a little something lacking that I can’t put my finger on. Perhaps she didn’t get enough screen time. I’m a little at a loss on this one.
It’s worth noting that Dredd is one of the films I really regret not seeing in 3D. In fact, I’d almost say 3D is a must for Dredd. There are several slow motion sequences thanks to the drug (Slo-Mo) that slows down time. The scenes are rather lacking in 2D. The 3D Blu-Ray is only 15 bucks on Amazon and I can use my 3D Wizard converter until my 3D dreams come true.
Okay, now that is out of the way, here’s some more spoiler ridden thoughts:
There are only a few times where I questioned the plot and decisions that the characters made, though in those instances a different decision or action would have ended the movie a little too soon. For instance, I feel like Judge Dredd should have explained the situation a little more thoroughly when he was finally able to get into contact with HQ, so when his back up arrived, they wouldn’t have been so easily tricked.
Also, after the mini-gun attack when Dredd threw that dude off the balcony, I feel like he could have just shot his incendiary round right across at the head bad guy and it would have been all over, folks.
The costumes are great and remind me of any image I’ve seen of Judge Dredd from the comics, however it did cause me a bit of a problem when the corrupt Judges showed up. It was hard for me to tell Dredd apart from the dude he had the one on one battle with initially. Was he fighting the man bad Judge? I wasn’t 100% sure at the time. Maybe it wouldn’t have been comics accurate, but the Bad Judges could have something to differentiate them a little more. Mustaches and goatees, perhaps? Would have been great for the evil lady Judge.
It was really cool to watch an action movie where the heroes had to worry about their ammunition. In fact, it was rather refreshing. However, I was never really worried that much, because at any point the heroes could have picked up one of the guns from the many, many people they killed during the course of the film. And in fact, that’s what Anderson ended up doing.
I was so happy that Anderson didn’t need to be “rescued” by Judge Dredd after she was captured. I would have gone apeshit if the movie had pulled that B.S. She was much too strong of a character to suddenly become a damsel in distress and it worked out perfectly for her.
Regardless, I loved Dredd. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts!
Score: 5 out of 5 “I am the law!”s