I walked into this movie not really expecting anything at all. I had heard some positive reviews for Dredd that tempted my interest, and I had some skepticism in me after just seeing the trailers for the new Total Recall and all the things they did to destroy that film. I never saw the Sylvester Stallone version of Judge Dredd which came out in 1995, but the overall consensus for that film was that it pretty much sucked. So I suppose one good thing Dredd had going for it was that it couldn’t possibly be any worse than the original film. And thankfully, this film turned out to be far better than I imagined.
Dredd is really damned good. Hard R rated action films can be a tough sell, but I thought this movie was not only solid in its premise, there’s some really great character work here. The film is engaging and held my attention to the end. If there’s any comparisons to be made with previous films, I’d say it combines some of the best elements of Robocop and Die hard. And through all the violence and gore, thanks to a drug in the film called Slo-mo, the blood shed is somehow made…beautiful? I suppose that’s what gory exploitation action films are all about. But thanks in part to the Slo-mo (and the 3D), it takes the film to newer unexpected places.
The movie’s also got a sense of humor…a strong female protagonist…and a good creepy female villain known to everyone as MaMa. Making the villain a woman in a hardcore action film was a nice surprise, and Lena Headey who plays MaMa does a great job. Dredd maintains a kind of drone like attitude through out the film, which pretty much masks any real feelings he has under the surface. Part of this is illustrated by the fact that Dredd never takes off his helmet the entire film. Everything is pretty straight forward with him as he dispenses justice, being judge jury and executioner, and there is very little grey area with him. But underneath it all, as someone else said, there is actually personality through his lack of personality. Karl Urban does a great job, having to act without his eyes, but entirely through his body language and his jaw! He gives life to Dredd, as we see a guy restrained of all emotion practically as a metaphor with the suit he wears.
Most of the emotional heart of the film however comes through Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) a rookie Judge in training who becomes Dredd’s partner. She also happens to be a mutant with psychic abilities that prove to be both a blessing and a curse. She has the most defined arc in the film and going from a kind of innocent place in the beginning to discovering her true path at the end of the film. At first you wonder why such a timid rookie wanted to become a judge in the first place, which Dredd even questions her about. All she can say is that in some way she wants to make a difference. In the beginning she’s pretty unsure if this is the direction she wants her life to take, but the adventure changes something inside her, and by the end of the film she is made stronger and more sure of herself in her life decision.
I don’t want to give away too much of the film. I will say the majority of the action in the film takes place in one location, a gigantic building apartment complex, which is where my comparison to Die hard comes in. In scope, this puts the film on a smaller scale than most action films, but here its a good thing as it leaves more room for character, and also we get a sense of the limited space the characters have to navigate through. The Judges get trapped inside, having to navigate inside while the plan to take out Mama. Along the way they take one of Mama’s associates as a hostage. In a great scene, the hostage tries to use Anderson’s psychic abilities against her to rape her with his mind, but how she is able to defend herself and retaliate with her mind is just awesome. It’s not only great but it gives us insight into her character…that men have taken advantage of her abilities in this way many times before and she’s learned how to control and ward them off. There may be a lot of explanation here about her desire to be a judge as well. It’s a great moment.
Mama, the lead villain, winds up being a strong character in her own right, creepy and dangerous. Some of her henchmen are there against their will to do what she wants. Her operation is the manufacturing of the Slo-Mo drug, which alters the mind to slow everything down to 1%. When we see visually what happens when people are tripped out on the drug, it leads to some incredibly beautiful slow motion photography. Its like there’s some ecstasy mixed in there as well, making the colors far more vibrant. Some of the gory violence as well is made super slow, so you get good visceral detail of every torn limb and bullet punctured skull! This movie feature everything from faces peeling off, to heads exploding, and every possible gruesome moment. What’s also interesting however is that in some cases the movie knows when to let loose with the gore, and when to hold back, such as one point when a character gets his hand blown off, we don’t actually see the amputated limb, but you know it happened.
Does this movie have an shortcomings? Not really. It’s a solid story, and it really is a lot of fun. I suppose I had only one complaint (SPOILER WARNING AHEAD, SKIP TO THE END IF YOU DONT WANT TO KNOW)……
….At one point Judge Anderson is forced to dispense justice on a thug, her first killing, which affects her. Later in the film, she and Dredd sneak in and hide out in a woman’s apartment. The woman turns out to be the wife of the thug she had to kill, which just reels in the drama even more. My issue with this is that I’m not a fan of coincidental events happening in movies, even if it turns out to be something that works against the character, I still feel the hand of the filmmakers trying to pull my strings, and it sometimes means forcing conflict on characters instead of letting it evolve naturally. It annoys the hell out of me when I see that. There must be over 1000 apartments in the building their in alone. What are the odds they would just stumble into the one of the guy she just shot? But apart from that, the rest of the film was just terrific.
This movie already isn’t doing so well in its opening weekend, which is now around 7th place in the Box Office. But it really is good though and it deserves to be seen. And if you can, pay the extra money to see it in 3D. I’m not generally an advocate of 3D, but in this films case I felt it added a new dimension, and I could feel the depth more of the shots than I have with most films (which tend to flatten out for me after 5 minutes). It also uses 3D as a fun gimmick, which is more than appropriate when we have blood splatter flying in our direction! In my opinion, this has not been a great year for movies, but this film was one of the most enjoyable and fun I’ve seen all year. Seriously give it a shot. If you grew up loving films like Die Hard, Robocop, or anything done by Paul Verhooven, you’ll have a great time.