Oh, Dredd made me so happy.
All I knew about Judge Dredd was the Stallone movie and I loved the concept even back then. I thought it was a great franchise for Stallone, a future where every cop was judge, jury and executioner. So I don’t know if the comic books were any better, but they sure did an amazing remake of a bad ‘90s sci-fi movie.
Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) has to grudgingly take the rookie Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) on patrol to decide if she has what it takes to be a judge. Hey, it’s as good as any police formula. Why wouldn’t future cops be saddled with rookie partners just like they’ve been for decades? At least it’s a cop movie trope. The Stallone movie came up with some conspiracy to frame Judge Dredd or whatever was a watered down version of every other dystopian sci-fi.
When responding to a call inside the Peach Trees skyscraper, the evil drug dealer Ma-Ma (Lena Heady) shuts the judges in and calls all the tower city’s goons on them. I know a lot of people are comparing the plot to The Raid: Redemption. Remember when they would have compared this plot to Die Hard? Even though it’s a gritty slum, it’s got enough high-tech sci-fi touches to make you feel like a vast epic world in which to set the film’s action.
The violence in Dredd is very Verhoeven-y. It’s mostly graphically bloody gunfights but there are some gratuitous pedestrians caught in the crossfire. There’s also finally a shot of what bodies must really look like when they splatter on the ground after a high fall. It’s rightfully peppered with dark humor too, like cleaning up said bodies is a practical and gruesome task.
All sci-fi used to be like this. I mean, all of them were, they weren’t the exception. Now I’m just so happy to see one movie take this approach. This is the best Robocop movie we’re going to get these days. I know Dredd is not a robot but he wears a helmet and armor and he’s logical.
I really respect Urban’s decision to keep the helmet on the entire movie. There’s no vanity to it. You never see his whole face but he is an expert at body language and makes some interesting shapes with his mouth. Thirlby gets to stay pretty. Since Anderson is a psychic, a helmet would interfere with her powers. All the other judges stay helmeted though, and I love seeing dudes in helmets just going about their business like it’s normal. Just a few other sets of judges gives you a sense of the whole world of judges, these minor characters who may be called in as backup here but probably have their own full on adventures themselves.
Urban is a modern day Clint Eastwood here. Who else do we have that’s all about the task? All our heroes now are trying so hard to be characters, sometimes becoming even bigger cliches that way. Dredd just wants to get the job done, and he cares about the difference between sentencing, execution and interrogation. He’s not necessarily joking but his blunt comments are funny (Anderson’s psychic conversations provide some dry humor too). Dredd does say “I am the law” though. Yay for that.
Ma-Ma is a great villain. First of all, scarred up Lena Heady looks awesome. She’s also just really bad. There’s no sympathy play for her motivations. They mention the pimp who scarred her but only to emphasize how she got revenge and took over the business. She is just mean, so Dredd has to stop her.
One thing I love about this Dredd is that they actually do police work. Dredd and Anderson analyze a crime scene and interview suspects. They even deal with smaller felonies like vagrancy, so you get a sense that this is a job, not just an excuse to be a lone badass action hero.
There are some nice moments along the way to humanize the violent closed-in world. There are some strong moments between the judges and some of the building’s residents that show other people have individual agendas. It’s not just Ma-Ma vs. Judges.
The 3-D looks okay. There are some vast empty spaces that go deep into the screen, and a few fingers pointed out of the screen and some splatters. Maybe some of the slow motion shattered glass wouldn’t look as pretty in 2-D, but I don’t know if it justifies the whole movie being in 3-D.
Dredd hits that perfect sweet spot of filmmakers isolating an audience and totally serving that audience. I hope sci-fi fans will appreciate this as a throwback, an homage or just damn awesome.