Some of you may remember the 1995 Sylvester Stallone action flick Judge Dredd(especially since we did a retro review of it back in our comic book month). It was one of that years most expensive wannabe blockbusters that wound up being a rather dredd-ful (excuse the pun) flop. It was based on a cool comic that was ripe for cinematic adaptation but wound up taking most of the edge out it and instead had Rob Schneider as a comic relief.
Which of course means that it was ripe for a reboot and after years of waiting that reboot, simply named Dredd, has finally arrived!
In this reboot Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), along with a psychic female rookie (Olivia Thirlby), is sent to a 100 story high-rise to investigate a triple murder. What Dredd doesn’t know is that said high-rise is controlled by a crazy ex-prostitute turned drug kingpin named Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). Dredd and his partner end up locked in the building and have to fight for their lives against Ma-Ma’s army.
The plot for this movie sounds simple, and it is. Dredd is not a very complex film and doesn’t pretend to be one either. It’s just a straight-forward, no-bullshit, badass action flick about a one-man army (well one man and one woman) fighting for their lives.
But while Dredd isn’t very complex or deep, it ain’t simple-minded either. Director Pete Travis (Vantage Point) and writer Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine) seem to know what they’re doing here. The viewer’s intelligence is not insulted and while the premise is fantastic to an extent, it is also somewhat grounded in reality. The film creates a world which might conceivably happen sometime in the future, if fascists would rule. Dredd is simple in a smart way.
In this future all the cops are allowed to be Dirty Harry types as they are judge, jury and sometimes executioner. This is a nasty, violent future so the film makes it seem like that might the best thing for the police to be. It’s hard to tell if the filmmakers condone this world but the film doesn’t spend much time on moral questions. The violence and ugliness are reflected in the look of the world, which can be described as Blade Runner without the neon or the world of The Fifth Element filtered through a shit-load of dust and dirt and all the flying cars removed.
The film’s plot may sound similar to The Raid and it can be described as The Raid with big guns instead of martial arts, and instead of an entire police force it’s only two people. Dredd also shares with that film the problem that it’s hero doesn’t really have much in the way of a personality. Dredd is basically a badass mouth (he never takes his helmet off) who kicks ass six ways to Sunday, or rather, shoots ass. But he almost makes up for his lack of personality (we don’t really get to know anything about him) with his badassness.
We do get to know a little more about his partner, who’s a rookie on her first mission. She’s afraid but willing and gradually becomes almost as much of a badass as Dredd. Olivia Thirlby makes an impression in this role and makes you believe her transformation which doesn’t happen all of a sudden but develops gradually, she’s not a total wimp to begin with anyway.
Dredd is a movie with simple ambitions that takes itself moderately seriously. As an actioner it’s lean and mean and does the job suitably. It’s also an exercise in style as director Travis play around a lot with slow-motion. The film’s plot largely concerns a drug called “Slow-mo” and we get to see depictions of said drugs’ effects which makes the user feel like time slows down to a crawl. It’s a bit overused at times but mostly it works. There’s a really cool bit shown in slow motion where Dredd is shooting a bunch of baddies and we get see the bullets hitting them really slowly. There’s something cool about a bullet exploding a man’s cheek in slow motion. 3D effects are put into good use here, they never get in the way and help create a cooler atmosphere.
Still, as cool and badass as the movie is, it really needed more character to be a true genre classic. The characters don’t have much in the way of strong personalities and there’s not much in the way of humor. The film has the good sense to stay simple and doesn’t try to be much more than it is (though the slow-mo bits get a bit pretentious eventually) but it doesn’t leave much behind. Fun while it lasts but fades afterwards.
Final verdict: Dredd has little depth and doesn’t really leave you with very much after it ends. But it’s still pretty fun while it lasts and totally badass, not to mention smarter than most movies of this kind (or maybe rather, less dumb). A considerable improvement over the Stallone movie and well above average of it’s kind. This is one Dredd who says “I am the law” instead of “I AHM DUH LOOO”.