Friday, September 28, 2012

Review: Dredd

Today is my birthday, from your point of view. I’m actually speaking to you from the past because I don’t want to work on my special day. I was thinking about throwing up a self-indulgent fluff piece but unfortunately I went to go see Dredd this past Sunday and now I need to talk about it.

Dredd is Hollywood’s second attempt at making a movie based on Judge Dredd, a British comic book character first seen in 1977. In 1995 a film version of the comic was made starring Sylvester Stallone as the title character. It’s widely regarded as complete and utter garbage and fans of the comic note that it horrendously messes up the spirit of the original charter. So no sequels for that flick. However in 2012 a new Judge Dredd film hit theaters. When I saw the trailers for this movie I was hooked. I was incredibly stoked to catch this movie; I would have put it on my Summer Movie list…except that it came out in September. It’s directed by Peter Travis who’s done nothing I’ve seen before. There’s about seventeen years’ worth of bad blood for this film due to its predecessor. Does Dredd live up to its comic or is it a repeat offender of extremely shitty cinema?

Full review after the jump.

F**k the Police I AM THE LAW
In the future much of the planet is a wasteland, but humanity continues to live on in giant Mega-Cities that host hundreds of millions of citizens. In Mega-City One law and order are maintained by judges, police officers who act as judge, jury and, if need be, executioner. Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is one such judge, famous in the city for his commitment to the law (and somewhat brutal nature). Today Dredd is called in with the task of overseeing a rookie, Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), and evaluating if she should be accepted into their ranks. When the two investigate a triple homicide in the population tower of Peach Trees they find themselves locked in with practically the enite population gunning for them on orders from a vicious drug lord known as “Ma-Ma” (Lena Headey).

Before we get started take note that I am not a Judge Dredd expert. I know as much as your typical comic book nerd and someone who has access to Wikipedia, but I’ve never read a single comic with the character in it. For example a friend of mine told me he was under the impression that the comic was a satire that was supposed to be funny. I don’t know because I haven’t read it. Anyway let’s talk about the good things…


First of all more than anything it feels like a throwback to old school post-apocalyptic films, such as Escape from New York, and it makes me feel nostalgic. But more than that Dredd is basically the perfect action film. Its premise is simple, not overly complicated, and once it’s established we get some incredibly brutal and over the top action. But it’s not dumb, which is the biggest problem with these action flicks everyone loves; in fact at times it can be downright tender which is kind of surprising. Also it’s basically Training Day if a) Training Day was set in a horribly slum filled dystopia in the future and b) the senior officer was the least corrupt cop in the city.

"King Kong ain't got shit on the law!"
Judge Dredd is a pretty goddamn cool character. Like in the comic his helmet is never removed, so props to Karl Urban for lacking the ego to achieve this. I love how Dredd is portrayed as a brutal, anal, humorless and remorseless agent of the law. In almost any other story he’d be a villainous fanatic but in this film he’s merely the proper reaction to an even more vicious world. He’s the hero Mega-City 1 both deserves and needs. Urban, who I really liked in Red, does a good job in capturing the elements that I believe made Dredd work in the comic. I LOVE how even though the shit quickly hits the fan and he and Anderson are put in a really bad situation he makes it clear the evaluation is still in progress. Of course it is; he’s Judge F**king Dread. Being at the mercy of Ma-Ma isn’t a crisis, its f**king Tuesday! Now it’s kind of a problem that Dredd never changes or grows in the movie but I believe that’s intentional. Dredd represents Justice, or whatever passes for such in his twisted dystopia, and thus doesn’t really need to have character development. Thankfully we get plenty of that from his rookie Anderson.

In a lot of ways this is her story (but then at some point it becomes Dredd’s story again, but that’s mainly for the violent bits). I really liked Olivia Thirlby; she did a great job as Anderson. Dredd is less of a character and more of a symbol so in a very real way the movie falls on her shoulders rather than Urban's and I think she does a pretty damn fine job carrying it. Plus I like how she goes from dangerously naïve to “Dude, seriously. I just don’t give a shit anymore.” Plus, yeah, she’s pretty damn gorgeous. Can’t really overlook that.

I may be willing to betray the law if it meant she came 'round to investigate
Lena Headey is alright as Ma-Ma but for a character that’s supposed to be so vicious and so bloody enticed by brutal violence I felt like the performance could have been more. It was fine, I just think she’s overshadowed by the two leads. Like I said the plot is simple but effective. There’s even some satire and commentary sprinkled throughout the film without it taking over the narrative. The score is kind of typical electronic-like stuff you find in cyberpunk themed films. Nothing too special there. I love the setting of Mega-City 1. I really wish we got to more of it though.

I found the special effects to be distracting. To me they looked pretty awful and clearly fake, though this is almost certainly because it was made for 3D and I saw it in 2D. Still for all its violence and gore the majority of it was CG which, as it almost always does, looks vastly inferior than using something more real. At first these points didn’t bug me that much but by the end I was sufficiently annoyed enough by it to not call this flick the greatest action movie in history. But as you can probably guess I’m still extremely enamored with it anyway and the whole time I was watching it all I could think of was that I couldn’t wait for the sequels.

Aaand that’s when life got really annoying for a while. Dredd bombed at the Box Office. It didn’t just bomb, it nuclear explosioned. It opened at #6, which is crazy bad. I’m pretty sure even Battleship did better than that and that movie was widely regarded as being “awful bullshit”. Of course this was released in September despite clearly being a summer action vehicle. End of Watch and House at the End of the Street both came in and likely hurt things for Dredd, as well as Terrible Faux-Action Girl Bullshit 5 Resident Evil: Retribution certainly muddled things a bit as well. Plus doubtlessly some people who don’t know too much about the production probably remembered the old 90s film and decided not to bother. Regardless of the “why” the fact that Dredd needs to make over 50 million to get a sequel even considered but at the rate it’s going it won’t even make its budget back. To put in into perceptive Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, which also bombed, still made about $5 million more its opening weekend. Ouch.

Critical acclaim - Box Office Success = Cult section at video store
Dredd doesn’t need to be smarter than it is, it doesn’t need to have more meaning. It’s an action movie with the benefit of not insulting your intelligence or being pretentious. It's biggest flaws, while not minor, can be overlooked for the sake of the total package. I LOVE THIS movie and I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t. You need to see it. Take off work, skip school, do what you have to do. If you like action, guns, and/or cyber punk this is a movie for you. If you want to see Olivia Thirlby looking pretty while shooting crooks in the head (and I’m pretty sure you do) you need to catch this film before it leaves theaters. What are you waiting for? DO IT NOW!!! 

I give Dredd 4 Adorable Pandas out of 5.


-Great action 

-Fun characters 


-Some special effects aren’t so great 

By the time you read this blog I’ll be off somewhere celebrating my birthday. Which means I’ll be in some corner of my apartment lamenting my lost youth while clutching a bottle of whisky. Not drinking it; merely clutching it.

1 comment:

  1. Sadly Dredd nosediving at the box office is only going to send a message to Hollywood that "Only well known comic characters can make the money". Dredd should've at least scored the #3 spot; how I long for the days of simple 80s action....oh and PS happy birthday


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