“I wish I could recommend Dredd as an exciting comic-adaptation of a sci-fi dystopian future, but I unfortunately thought it fell short of being as good as the comic it tried to replicate.”
Science-Fiction, Action and Crime Drama
Karl Urban as Judge Joseph Dredd, Olivia Thirlby as Judge Cassandra Anderson, Lena Headey as Madelaine "Ma-Ma" Magrigal and Wood Harris as Kay Warrick
Director - Pete Travis
Writers - Alex Garland
Rated R for strong bloody violence, language, drug use and some sexual content
Runtime - 95 min.
As I mentioned in my TRAILER TUESDAY! DREDD 3D – 2012 – NOTA DREADED REMAKE! post, I was hopeful that Dredd would be more faithful to the British comic character than the 1995 film Judge Dredd, directed by Danny Cannon and which stared Sylvester Stallon. It was definitely more faithful to the source material in regard to character and visualization, but it was truly lacking in a multifaceted plot.
Dredd quickly establishes the future United States as an irradiated waste land known as the Cursed Earth and Mega-City One, the enormous metropolis containing 800 million residents with several sweeping cityscape shots and some descriptive narrative. We see Dredd being assigned rookie Judge Anderson, who is a psychic who has failed the tests to become a full Judge. A drug lord Madeline Madrigal, known as Ma-Ma, drugs three men with Slo-Mo (an addictive new drug that slows the user's perception of time to 1% of normal) and throws their skinned bodies from the top of a 200-story slum tower block Peach Trees. Dredd and Anderson are assigned to the murders and they apprehend one of Ma-Ma’s dealers, Kay. To keep Kay from being interrogated, Ma-Ma’s techie gains control of the Tower’s security control room and seal the building using its blast shields. The rest of the film consists of Dredd and Anderson making their way to the top of the tower to bring justice to Ma-Ma, killing all of her henchmen along the way.
I liked quite a few things about Dredd, but the lack of any real complicated plot related to the city or the politics of Mega-City One kept me from really becoming captivated by it. Karl Urban as Dredd does an excellent job of playing the character as a force-of-nature. Throughout the film he never hesitates in his duty to serve justice, even when he is clearly outnumbered or in one case when he is shot in the abdomen and has to apply a field dressing to it. By Dredd’s very nature, he must have an interesting adversary to make him more interesting. Unfortunately, Lena Headey as Madelaine "Ma-Ma" Magrigal is not much more than your standard drug lord type of character, whose motivations do not appear to be anything more than killing the judges to maintain her Slo-Mo business. The most interesting character, and one of the films definite positive points, is Olivia Thirlby as Judge Cassandra Anderson. Anderson is a rookie cop and valued for her psychic abilities. Thirlby plays this character with just the right amount of realistic moral hesitancy, while still maintaining the character’s inner strength. If the film had featured more of Dredd and Anderson’s interplay and moral deviations, it may have helped to better understand how Dredd had come to be the way that he is. Unfortunately, Dredd remains a fairly one dementioal character throughout the film.
The scope of the film is too small for such an enormous environment that Dredd inhabits. Mega-City One is a sprawling urban landscape that is supposed to cover much of what is now the Eastern United States, yet most of the film takes place in the single slum tower Peach Trees building. I would have liked to have seen more of Mega-City One before being confined to the tower building, but evidently the modest budget didn’t allow for that. What we do see of the city is pretty impressive, but there just isn’t enough shown to give you a true feeling of the despotic and dystopian environment that the Judges are forced to keep the peace in. I did like the design of the Judge bikes and the multiple-cartridge guns that they use. Some of the more interesting fight scenes involve Dredd’s imaginative use of his weapon on the bad guys.
My only other real complaint is that for a film that relies so heavily on violent action to propel the forward momentum of the story, it just isn’t very imaginative or filmed with any visual flair. The only real stylized moments are when the film goes into extreme slow-motion shots and most of these just felt like they were killing the spectacle of the action rather than emphasizing it. I’m not sure that Pete Travis was the best choice to direct Dredd, as his previous films like Vantage Point (2008) and Endgame (2009) seemed like much more intimate dramas.
I wish I could recommend Dredd as an exciting comic-adaptation of a sci-fi dystopian future, but I unfortunately thought it fell short of being as good as the comic it tried to replicate. I can only hope that a sequel will explore more of the larger world of Dredd and Mega-City One.
TECHNICAL: Acting – 8 Directing – 7 Cinematography – 9 Script – 7 Special Effects – 9
VISCERAL: Visual – 9 Auditory – 9 Intellectual – 7 Emotional – 7 Involvement – 8
TOTAL - 80