Movie Review: Dredd

How’s this for low expectations? When I heard they were making another movie based on Judge Dredd, my thought was “Well, it couldn’t possibly be worse than the Sly Stallone POS, could it?”

I’m pleased to say that not only was it not worse than the Sly Stallone POS, it’s much, much better.

Dredd, staring Karl Urban of Bones McCoy fame as the title character Judge Dredd, is, from what I remember of the comics, a fairly good adaptation of the character.

Before I give a brief run-down on the plot, I would like to talk about one of the main characters of Dredd: Megacity I.

Megacity I is a giant urban sprawl on a scale almost to beggar belief. A city like New York if New York was the tired remains of the previous glory before World War III that is slowly (or quickly in places) slipping into decay, a city like New York if New York stretched from Boston to DC, a city like New York before it was “cleaned up”, where crime is rampant, life is cheap and hard, and where the best most people can hope for is to just get by and survive. Surrounded by a nuclear wasteland named the Cursed Earth, it is one of three megacities that hold all of the population of North America in a relatively small space. It is a city teaming with millions, dotted with megablocks which are giant skyscrapers/apartment complexes that house thousands (Peach Trees, the block the movie takes place in, houses 70k people) and are almost miniature cities unto themselves.

As said, crime is not just prevalent, it’s rampant, and with so many people in such a condensed space makes it nigh impossible to keep the peace; the most the “protectors” of the city can do is simply try to keep it from getting less bad by dealing with the worst of it. Those protectors are the judges who embody the roles of the police officer, the jury, judge, and executioner, able to render judgements for violations of the law and administer sentences on the spot, and if that sentence is death, well, they’ve got the gun for that. The judges work both with and against Megacity I, because it is the megacity that allows the crime that the judges combat to foster and yet they, at least the non-crooked judges, do what they can to save the city from itself.

So, when you watch this movie, keep two things in mind:
1. The chances of the world getting any better are pretty much non-existent and everyone knows it.
2. The judges, I’m sure in many regards, know they are fighting a war they will never win.

In brief, Dredd follows the story of Judge Dredd, a well-known judge famous for being a strict adherent to the law as well as a complete and utter bad ass. Judge Dredd is assigned a rookie judge named Anderson (who is a cannon character), played by Olivia Thirlby, a psychic mutant who didn’t even pass the academy to actually be a judge but who is being thrown a bone because of her psychic abilities. Dredd’s task is to give her one day’s worth of evaluation and, if she meets with his very difficult to attain approval, she’ll become a full judge; if not, well, no real loss. He takes Anderson out to evaluate her and, while on assignment, they pick up the investigation of three skinned bodies that were dropped from a great height inside the Peach Trees megablock. It is there they discover who is making a drug called Slo-Mo, a substance that makes it seem like time is passing at either 1/10th or 1/100th (can’t remember) of its normal rate (which led to some really pretty effects), and earn the attention of Ma-Ma, played by Lena Headley of Queens Cersei and Gorgo, who basically gets an entire megablock of bad guys to go after the two judges. That’s all the plot I’ll share.

I really enjoyed this movie for a number of reasons and the first is the character Dredd. Karl Urban does a great job of playing him IMO although at times I think his voice slips a bit between Dredd’s growl and Urban’s normal voice. Dredd is an implacable individual who is relentless in his pursuit of violations of the law, so much so that he carts around a hand-cuffed bad guy for the first two-thirds of the movie rather than cut him loose and lose the liability of having to mind the perp while doing his best to not get shot. This is pretty spot on from the character I remember but they also did a number of things that showed that Dredd was not necessarily the asshole that Stallone’s version came across as. For instance, at one point Dredd see’s a vagrant sitting outside Peach Treesand asks Anderson to sentence him (because vagrancy is a crime). Anderson does but Dredd says, “Don’t be here when we get back.” showing that he is more concerned with the law not being violated than punishment. Additionally, despite multiple times him pronouncing the sentence of death on people for attempting to kill a judge (namely him), he chooses not to kill two individuals (the circumstances around this and who they are I won’t reveal because it’d count as a spoiler to the tension of that scene). By changing the actual punishment he delivers, he shows that while he may not have compassion necessarily, he does show some flexibility that Stallone’s Dredd lacked.

Thirlby does a good job of playing the idealistic, hopeful, and very, very rookie Anderson. A thing I appreciated about the writing of Dredd, and Thirlby’s acting, was that Anderson is just as capable as Dredd, although she lacks experience and that shows. The times when her ideals clash with her duty never come off as what could have been seen as “women are emotional” stereotypes but, instead, that Anderson is just a person who does want to try to make a difference in a world where that really won’t matter in the grand scheme of things. She is also given her own moments to shine in this movie so that it’s not just all about Dredd. No complaints there.

Finally, the setting itself is also well done. Because most of the action takes place in basically the interior of an apartment building, it could feel like the setting was repetitive and limiting but the movie makers did a lot with it and, I think, used it to enhance the difficulty of the situation the judges find themselves in. In this way the movie excels in the same manner as The Raid (which was filmed after this one was in the can so I don’t want to hear anyone cry “rip off!”, Dredd just wasn’t released until now).

Now, one piece of warning is that the movie is violent and graphic in its violence, such as one scene where a person is shot through the face in slow motion (while on Slo-Mo) and you see the bullet exit the other side of his face, blowing through his teeth and leaving his mouth a ruin. The violence in this is over-the-top, the foley artists must have been having a field day, but, unlike other action movies where the violence almost seems a bit silly or unbelievably over the top (I’m looking at you Expendables 2) the violence in this movie has a sense of seriousness that makes it ok in the context of the world the movie takes place in. In some ways the violence is used to show just how horrible the world has gotten that a gun-toting drug addict can go through a mall, gunning people down, and the bodies are disposed of, without any ceremony, on a cart attached to a floor sweeping zamboni as if they were no more than bags of trash.

While we don’t see the character, I was amused at the one reference we got to Judge Hershey. At one point Dredd and Anderson are about to set out for the day and Dredd gives her the option to chose what they’re going to investigate. We’re shown a map of their quadrant of Megacity I with various crimes in progress displayed. One part of the map shows a riot taking place. The only judge assigned to handle a Megacity riot? Judge Hershey.

Because she’s just that bad ass.

Dredd is a total, ultraviolence action film that doesn’t try to do anything but be itself. It is a great popcorn movie, not high cinema but perfectly enjoyable if you want to see someone shoot a number of other people.

I will say this: normally I warn people off of 3D as it feels like most 3D movies aren’t worth it these days (Avatar was awesome in 3D because the textures popped A LOT more than normal) because the “3D” was added in post-production and just didn’t seem to do anything other than cost you a couple more dollars for your ticket to rent the stupid glasses. Dredd was actually shot in 3D and that’s the way it is meant to be seen. I didn’t see it in 3D because we opted for the super cheap first showing (in the event the movie sucked) which was the normal film and I’m actually a little sad about that; the scenes with Slo-Mo would’ve been AWESOME in 3D.

Watch it in the theater to get the full experience. I always say go with getting something for cheaper if you can but if you want an action film of good quality, you won’t be disappointed to pay full price for this flick, even with the 3D glasses rental fee.

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