Dredd (2012) Review (R)
I regret not seeing Dredd at the movie theater. After seeing the trailer, I thought that it would at least be better than that craptastic Sylvester Stallone/Rob Scnieder flick, but it still looked like it was going to be a disappointment. Lots of Zack Snyder-esque slow motion. Lena Headey as the villain (in slow motion)… And I LIKE Lena Heady, but pulling off ‘gritty’ with a chick villain is not easy (am I being offensive there?). And Dredd’s voice wasn’t inspiring. Mainly though, it’s that awful inappropriate song that kicks off the trailer. No, it’s just the entire trailer and they used several of the most uninteresting lines in the film OUT OF CONTEXT… “It’s judgement time” and “Let’s do this”… That made this film seem like ordinary superhero action fare. It’s not and it’s a damn shame that this film bombed at the box office. If EVER there was a film based on a comic book that truly deserved a sequel, it is this one. It is one of the best ‘based on a comic book character’ movies that I’ve ever seen, as well as just being a darn good flick.
I have to thank Pete Travis for making this movie. Despite my reservations about the voice (which was not as deep and gutteral and LOUD as I always pictured Judge Dredd sounding like), Travis gets the character. He also got the satire (even if the film was almost a little too serious in tone for satire) inherent with the character. I also want to thank Karl Urban for never taking off the helmet in the movie. That’s not a shot. It’s just not the character if you see him without the helmet. It’s probably a difficult thing for an actor to do, since most of them want their mug onscreen as much as possible. I also want to thank the screenwriter Alex Garland for writing a film that is worthy of the character (created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra). And I apologize sincerely for not seeing it in theaters. I love this frickin’ movie.
The movie is not a remake of the aforementioned Stallone.Schnieder lowlight, but based on the British comics character that sprang from the anthology series 2000 AD and later had scores of his own comics, a few of them of which I own. Dredd is one of those characters that was not ‘mainstream’ as far as comics are concerned. with When I think of Dredd, though, I think of artist Brian Bolland’s work on the character. He drew Dredd appropriately stonefaced while being able to capture the humor necessary for satire. The crazy thing is that it looks as though he based his art on Keith Urban from this movie instead of the other way around.
The movie… The movie immediately brought to mind other films that I’ve seen and REALLY enjoyed or just that I’ve seen recently. Dredd preceded Robocop as a character, but I think this film has much in common with that one. There are some lines and situations that even seem lifted from that without having them feel like they’re ripping it off. The plot also has some obvious similarities to The Raid: Redemption (that I need to rewatch, BTW), if not Die HArd, since it involves cops having to fight their way out of high rise filled with criminals.
The story takes place in a corrupt future city called Mega City One, population:800 million. Crime has reached such extreme levels that ‘judges’ have replaced police. They have the full authority to act as judge, jury and executioner in the field. Dredd (Urban) is one such judge and he doles out ‘justice’ without hesitation or mercy… Maybe even angrily. The movie is almost like one of those ‘day in the life of’ films. Dredd is ‘assessing’ a rookie Judge named Anderson. It’s a simple pass or fail assessment. The unusual thing about Anderson (played by Olivia Thirlby) is not that she’s a mutant with very powerful psychic abilities, but that she has sympathy for the general populace.
During her assessment, the two arrest a man in a slum building (with over 75,000 residents) that Anderson ‘feels’ was involved in a triple homicide. She is 99% sure, but even in Dredd’s black and white world, 99% is not proof enough to execute a man. He decides that they will take him in for interrogation, but before they can leave the city’s most powerful and ruthless criminal, a woman nicknamed Ma-Ma who happens to reside there, locks the building down. The arrested man has information that could lead back to her operation if he’s allowed to be taken, so she’s not going to allow that to happen. And that’s the basic setup.
I liked everybody in this movie and when I say that, I mean the villains aren’t likable, too, but they are really good at being despicable bad guys. I was surprised that Lena Headey was able to pull off being the arch-villain. She delivers on being believably beastly. And Travis makes all the right choices in how to portray her character. I liked that they avoided ‘bad guy cliches’ with some simple logic, but I won’t give that away, either.
Headey, though, never goes into the ‘over the top’ mod that many actors go into when they get a part like this. She plays a character that seems dispassionate towards doing people harm, possibly because she always seems to be operating only slightly over being strung out. The comicnerd in me also liked that she looked like the Morlocks leader, Callisto, from the pages of the Uncanny X-Men. ‘Member her?
I loved Karl Urban as Dredd and Thirlby as the first day on duty rookie Judge Anderson. They are a great illustration that two ‘buddy cop’ characters do not have to be outwardly extreme opposites of one another. I also liked that the director told the story visually when he could and it’s not hard to figure out that there is a clash of opinions between the two even when nothing is being said.
And while the film is called ‘Dredd’, Anderson is every bit as important to the story. I haven’t liked many of the films that I’ve seen Thirlby in up to this point, but she’s outstanding here. She’s always been hot, but now I liked the movie she’s in, too.
Again, Karl Urban should be commended for this. I think he’s mostly known for his role in the Star Trek reboot as Dr. McCoy, and to get a leading role and to be asked to wear a helmet the entire film is a lot to ask out of an actor, I think. He wholeheartedly embraces the character and never once do we get a Tobey Maguire/Andrew Garfield Spider-Man moment where they reveal to anyone that’s nearby who is beneath the mask in order to get more facetime.
And at some point, I got past my initial disapproval of the sound of his voice not sounding like what I imagined for Judge Dredd. I think it was at the exact moment where he says a certain line that is familiar to fans of the character. As soon as he said it, I cued up that old Anthrax song… the heavier live version, of course… in my head.
My only complaint about the film that probably echoes the complaints of others is that the movie wasn’t quite as blatantly satirical as maybe it needed to be. Travis may have sometimes been a little too low key.. a little too gritty serious… especially for some of the more graphic comedic bits. Initially, it felt like straight sci-fi drama to me, but it picked up about the time that Judge Anderson turns up. She’s a needed mirror for Dredd’s uncompromising character to work off of. Much like in Robocop, though, Travis was able to utilize satire while still allowing for you to care about the main characters, which is surprising since the main character is so one note in his demeanor and his ‘sidekick’ is fairly understated as well. The film has two more notable moments where the pace seemed to pick up. One is when Ma-MA’s put upon computer geek (Domhnall Gleeson) shows up, maybe not so much because of him (although I did like him more the further the film went), but because the film becomes situational at that point (the start of the second act). It picks up again with an exchange between Dredd and… Well, I won’t give anything away, but it’s near the end.
Even the use of slow motion at least seemed to be meant for satire. It’s not just used for random ‘kewl’ effect as it’s done in other films (like in Zack Snyder movies). It has a twisted purpose in Travis’ hands and there is an appropriately sick payoff involving the effect near the end. I’ll say this, too, the movie isn’t for everyone. While the film’s ‘heart’ is in the right place and it never dwells upon suffering; it is pretty graphic. But I do think a lot of some of the more graphic shots were meant to be funny… in the way that those skateboard videos depicting continuous sequences of skatepunks f’ing themselves up… it’s horrible, but usually it evokes a headshaking, grimacing smile at all of the self inflicted inhumanity on display. This movie had that effect on me and I laughed all through it (unlike in the somewhat nasty Killer Joe where I found out it was supposedly an intentional comedy long after I watched it … Never got that idea while watching it until the laughable ending).
This was not a ‘safe’ film. I realized that early on when Dredd pursues some lawbreaking scofflaws and they run over a pedestrian. Usually, in chase sequences in movies when the ‘good guy’ is chasing bad guys, they might cause all sorts of chaos driving, but no one ever gets run over. This is a thoroughly rated R movie, but not in the typical stupid way of people just repeatedly saying the ‘F’ word because the writers can’t come up with anything to say. It’s never gratuitous and evident the further the film progresses that the director knows what he’s doing.
Again, I love this movie. Absolutely love it. I loved the shit out of it, if I can be frank. It’s smart. It’s violent. It’s a little grimy. It frames some of that grime rather beautifully, too. It entertains. It surprises quite a few times with the biggest one being that it’s such a great movie. Dredd undersold itself and over delivered. I will be greatly saddened if there isn’t a sequel. I don’t know if the character would work, but I would love to see a sequel with the homicidal villain Judge Death, as long as all of the principals return, but I doubt that’s going to happen. At least we got this one, I guess. I just wish I had seen it in theaters. It’s one of the best comic book to film translations ever; not perfect, but how many movies are? No surprise that it crashes my Top Ten List of 2012.