Any time a reboot is launched, comparisons will be made between the new version and the original. Dredd isn’t any exception, and the question has been raised on whether or not it can or will erase the stench that the 1995 Sylvester Stallone powered Judge Dredd left in its wake. While many may consider the 1995 version a guilty pleasure, I found no pleasure in it at all. It was a waste of time and I was at first, worried that rebooting the franchise would follow suit. However, after the first trailer was released, I became hopeful that a repeat performance wasn’t about to happen. I don’t have any knowledge of the comic that spawned the films so I can’t say how either one holds up against the source material. I just know that I hated the original and was slowly becoming excited for the remake.
The new version of Dredd takes place a dystopian future among the irradiated ruins of Earth. The population has to be compacted into “mega cities” with this story taking place in Mega City One. Crime is abundant and law enforcement is made up of Judges; officers who respond to calls, but also dispense immediate justice. They serve as the judge, jury and at times, executioner. This version jumps right into the fire when veteran Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) responds to a homicide call at the massive 200 story housing complex known as Peach Trees. He’s partnered with rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who didn’t really pass the entrance exam, but has some pretty handy psychic abilities and whose performance is being evaluated by Dredd.
What starts as a run of the mill investigation, turns into a fight for survival when the judges discover that the person behind the homicide is Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), the leader of the MaMa clan and the creator of a new drug called Slo-Mo. Once Ma-Ma gets wind that the judges arrested one of her lieutenants, Ma-Ma locks down the complex, trapping the judges inside. Ma-Ma puts out a hit on the judges, offering those who kill them, a hefty reward. Now the judges have to work their way through the complex, dispensing their brand of justice, with limited resources, while trying to not get themselves killed for their efforts.
Screenwriter Alex Garland and director Pete Travis keeps things simple with this version of the dark, brooding character. The film doesn’t delve into extensive back-stories, nor is the story weighted down by exposition. The film suggests that there is a reason Dredd is the way he is, but it doesn’t offer any explanations as to why. Instead of wasting any of the film’s 95 minute run-time with unnecessary back story, the film focuses mainly on the here and now as events in Peach Trees accelerate to the final conclusion. The action is brutal and bloody, and just what you would expect from this type of character. This film makes no apologies for any of it either and doesn’t gloss over the fact that it’s a bloody affair.
I’ll be the first to say that I LOVE Karl Urban. His being cast as Dredd didn’t bother me in the least and he pulls it off in spectacular fashion. Never once removing the helmet, Urban manages to deliver all the lines and the scowl without ever coming across as corny. The man means business and the character is a force to be reckoned with, and all of those qualities are present. How he manages to make being fully clothed in layers of leather sexy, I’ll never know. The fact that you can’t see his face doesn’t even matter, it only adds to the mystery.
On the other end of the spectrum is Judge Anderson, played by Olivia Thirlby. Anderson is fresh-faced, yet carries an emotional weight and since she doesn’t wear a helmet at all, her emotions play out in her facial expressions. However, she is no damsel in distress and manages to take care of herself. Thirlby does a great job serving as the film’s emotional component. Being the sidekick comes with its own stigma, but Thirlby manages to stand on her own two feet and she handles it without becoming cliché.
The majority of the supporting characters in this film are one offs and could be played by just about anyone. Lena Headey, best known as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones, is no stranger to villainy. Ma-Ma isn’t your typical evil character in that she’s unusually calm through the course of the film. While we get a bit of Ma-Ma’s back story, it’s just enough to inform the viewer of where she came from. While Headey does a great job at bringing the bad, I felt that she’s a tad underused here.
Visually, this film has the future depicted just as I see it. It’s cramped and dirty and shows how there are just too many people and not enough space. While there is quite a bit of CGI blood spray, overall the effects are pretty good. This film is being shown in both 2D and 3D. I saw the 2D version so I can’t say personally how the 3D is. From what I’ve heard the 3D is quite good and I could see in certain scenes how effective it would have been. The use of the slow motion effect gives the viewer an idea on how the Slo-Mo drug works and it seems to me those would be the best scenes viewed in 3D. Where most films treat drugs as a source of evil, the use of Slo-Mo in Dredd never takes the stage as the film’s villain. By using slow motion in the Slo-Mo scenes, the viewer gets a sense of what the user feels when they take the drug to escape the horrors of life in Mega City One. These scenes are actually the one and only thing of beauty, as odd as that sounds.
Dredd isn’t going to be for everyone and those who don’t like to see a lot of blood and guts will be put off by the level of violence. Those looking for something that fits outside the mold of the cookie cutter comic book films may be surprised however. I appreciate when filmmakers take a chance and step outside the lines and that’s exactly what was done here. Even though the plot is pretty thin, Travis managed to deliver an entertaining film that explores the underbelly of comic book movies. Dredd won’t reach the upper echelons of comic book movies like Batman or The Avengers, but I do hope it does well enough to continue the franchise. I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to seeing Karl Urban don the helmet once again.Tags: Alex Garland, Dredd, Dredd review, Karl Urban, Lena Headey, Olivia Thirlby, Pete Travis