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Dredd (2012)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

DREDD (2012)

Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Wood Harris, Warrick Grier, Rakie Ayola

Written By: Alex Garland Directed By: Pete Travis

The Short Version

This time, Judge Dredd keeps to his roots.

Dredd is gritty, bloody, well-paced, intense fun.

Karl Urban nails the title role.

The “Slo-Mo” gimmick is cheesy, but it works.

If you’re up for dark action, try Dredd.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


Just start snacking.

Pairs Well With...


It’s beer designed for overkill.  It’s not “artisanal,” but within its niche, it’s good stuff.  (It also might make you feel as though things are moving in slow motion after you’ve ingested it in large amounts.)

“I am the law.”

Back in 1995, Sylvester Stallone brought the legendary comic book character of Judge Dredd to the screen, and it didn’t go over very well, especially with people who were already fans of the character.  Seventeen years later, in the age of reboots, the powers that be thought it was time to give Judge Dredd another go…  And this time, for the most part, they got it right.

Our story takes place in a dystopian future where most of the Earth has been reduced to a post-apocalyptic desert wasteland.  The entire surviving population of North America now lives in the walled hell known as Mega City One: a filthy, grimy metropolis that stretches from what used to be Boston to what used to be Washington, DC.  Giant 200 storey tenements house upwards of 70,000 people apiece, and crime is rampant.  All that stands between the 800 million residents of Mega City One and anarchy are the Judges: men and women who combine the powers of police, judge, jury, and summary executioner all in one shot.  The toughest of these is Judge Dredd (Karl Urban, The Chronicles of Riddick).

Today, Dredd is tasked with assessing a rookie named Anderson (Olivia Thirlby, The Darkest Hour).  The test will occur in a tenement called Peach Trees, where a gang leader named Ma-Ma (Lena Headey, 300) has set up shop peddling a new drug called Slo-Mo, which makes users feel as though the passage of time has slowed to a crawl.  But Ma-Ma has no intention of surrendering herself or any of her cronies for judgment, so it looks like Dredd and Anderson will just have to get to her the hard way…

There are two ways to approach Dredd. 

One way is to go in with one’s brain in neutral and treat Dredd like standard, shoot-em-up, in-one-eyeball-out-the-other action fare that makes for an hour and a half’s worth of blood candy.  Call it an Earthbound, higher quality, more sensible version of Doom, maybe.

If that’s all you want, then Dredd is going to be even better than you were expecting.  Dredd himself is an absolute badass (who never takes off his helmet, by the way), and when he dispenses justice, it usually involves things going “boom”.  Things like bad guys who get hit in the chest by high explosive rounds, or other bad guys who take a different kind of round to the skull after making Dredd say “hotshot.”  (Ah, variety.  Seriously; one never feels like it’s just “one damn perp kill after another.”)  Those bad guys, by the way, pack some pretty decent heat of their own.  Nothing like Gatling guns tearing up a tenement level to keep our hero from getting bored…

Not that there’s any danger of getting bored here, mind.  While the action isn’t “non-stop,” the pacing of the film is, so even when the characters have a moment to breathe and remind the audience that there’s a story at play here, said audience doesn’t automatically feel like it’s time to hit the restroom; something is always moving, even when bullets aren’t.  If you do hit the restroom, though, you’re not going to be in too much danger of losing your place; the plot of Dredd moves in a very, very straight line… just like most action fans want it to.

So, if you just want a standard action shoot-em-up with grit, bullets, skinned corpses, and exploding heads, here you go.  Dredd is a party in a box, and thanks to a complete lack of stupid CGI tentacles, it’s an even better party.  You will have no complaints.

Yeah, you could approach Dredd that way if you want to, and I suspect that many of you will.  Or…

Or, you could keep your brain in gear and realize the Dredd does a lot of subtle things to take its shoot-em-up framework to another level.  No, it’ll never be an art film, but as it turns out, Dredd is anything but dumb: not with its action, not with its story, and not with its humor.

When I watched Dredd in the theatre today, there were indeed moments that caused much of the audience to laugh out loud, but they weren’t what anyone could call “laugh track” moments.  Instead, what overt humor there is in this film is generally of the very darkest variety (a PA announcement states that the Food Court will reopen in 30 minutes while we see blood drenched bodies being cleaned off the floor), and anything even remotely funny uttered by the characters is delivered deadpan.  When you’re making a gritty, nasty action film, that’s exactly the way it should be.

This gritty, nasty action film also has a real plot, and basic though it is, it’s a solid one without any holes in it.  What’s more, the script and the director trust you to discover certain elements of the story yourself without having them spelled out to you; if you catch the little details, fine, and if you don’t, you don’t.  And badass though Dredd may be, he’s not quite as straightforward as you might initially think: after all, he refuses to execute a suspect whose guilt is presented as being a 99% certainty.  As an audience, we’d expect that level of certainty to be more than good enough, but for Dredd, that 1% means trying to take the guy down to the station for questioning instead.  It may seem like a trivial thing standing on the outside, but for a movie like this, it really is a big deal… a big deal that also happens to set the rest of the story in motion, but never mind that.  There’s also the Rookie to consider, whose ESP gimmick would be incredibly easy to grind into cheese... but that just doesn’t happen here.

What does happen is that the audience ends up with characters and a storyline that beg to be visited again.  Yes, Dredd is a very nicely self-contained package of “boom,” but there are so many hints dropped about so many other awesome stories beyond The Training Day From Hell that yes, I am already calling for sequels.  This world is just too cool to let go of. Sure, it stands fine on its own, but it's more than solid enough to serve as a foundation for a franchise.

The fact that Karl Urban nails the lead role also goes a long way toward bringing about that assertion.  Though his helmet stays on – true to character – he does more acting with his mouth than many action players do with full faces.  He plays Dredd as a completely unflappable badass while also granting him something more; something intangible, something not in the script, but something that very much reminds the viewer that underneath the armor, Judge Dredd is still a human being.  I want to see more of that. I also want to see more of what Olivia Thirlby brings to the table for Anderson, for that matter.

But back to the movie at hand now.  Using the “Slo-Mo” drug as a plot point works well enough, and the writers are quite clever about weaving its extra special side effect into the story in a way that makes sense, but it’s still really obvious that the drug’s gimmick was meant primarily as an excuse to give the effects department something extra to do.  Since the scenes play well, this gets a pass even though slow motion usually drives me nuts, but still, no one can tell me that this drug was not brought into the story with anything other than the associated visuals in mind.  Just sayin’.

What doesn’t get a pass, however, is the really bad stereoscope.  I was shocked to discover that Dredd was in fact shot in “3D” from the get go, because most of these scenes give the exact same vibe as an awful after-the-fact conversion.  The bathtub sequence wherein the audience first meets Ma-Ma is especially bad; her arm doesn’t even look like it’s actually attached to her body.  Far from enhancing the trippiness of Slo-Mo’s effects or bringing extra punch to the action sequences, the stereoscope is the one thing about this movie that threatens to make it look stupid instead of intense.  Do yourself a favor and watch it in standard format instead.  The grit will be grittier that way.

With that said, if you’re any kind of action fan – particularly the kind that can appreciate a good exploding head – it’s definitely worth your time to check out Dredd. 

Bottom line, Dredd is judged worthy and is cleared of any wrongdoing, though it does get a stern warning for the really bad stereoscope.  All involved are encouraged to go forth and do us all a favor by getting to work on a sequel.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, September, 2012

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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