Monday Movie Review: Dredd (3D)

A little context first. I’ve never read a Judge Dredd or 2000 AD comic. When they were readily available and at peak popularity, I was still a bit too young to identify the appeal of these grungy comics headlined by a scowling badass in leather with big boots and an even bigger gun. And despite knowing it enraged the fans, I didn’t hate the 1995 Stallone film adaptation either. So yeah, I went into this year’s remake, Dredd, completely neutral, with no preconceptions.

And you know what? Even if you aren’t a fan of the source material (written by  John Wagner, who advised here), Dredd is a great example of a throwback sci-fi actioner. If you enjoyed director Paul Verhoeven’s gory, tangible-feeling and borderline cartoony take on the genre in the late 80s and early 90s – with RoboCop and Total Recall respectively – then you’ll love this one.

In an age where so much big budget sci-fi typically adopts a hyper-styled Apple Store aesthetic, and relies heavily on CGI to make its fluidity a reality, Dredd delivers a cartilage-crunching punch to the face of mainstream expectation. There are no minutely choreographed fight sequences or block-levelling explosions here. British production Dredd keeps things low-key, gritty, grounded and permanently menacing. At the same time, the film manages to maintain the sense of its source material. It feels like a comic book (monologuing villains abound!) without needing to veer over the top.

Dredd’s plot is kept exceptionally simple. In the future, after devastating nuclear war has irradiated much of the world, Mankind is confined to miserable, over-crowded Mega-Cities. Hundreds of millions of people are crammed into ugly urban spaces plagued by poverty, crime and urban unrest. Although they can barely respond to 6% of callouts, Judges – an all-in-one combination of cop, judge and executioner – attempt to maintain order, dispensing justice on the spot.

The permanently helmeted Dredd (Karl Urban) is a respected and feared veteran Judge. This hard case is assigned to accompany rookie Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) and assess whether the psychically gifted young woman has the chops to be a Judge. From dozens of cases, they choose to investigate a triple homicide at Peach Trees, a dilapidated City Block that houses thousands of degenerates and down-on-their-lucks. In the pursuit of justice, the Judges must fight their way up 200 storeys to get to Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), the scarred, merciless head of a drug syndicate and street gang.

As already said, Dredd isn’t your conventional, well-groomed Hollywood effort. With basically one unchanging location for the entire movie, and three to four Slo-Mo scenes (the reality-altering drug that Ma-Ma manufactures) in quick succession, the film flirts with tedium continually. Yet, despite teetering on the brink of repetitiveness, Dredd just manages to stay on the right side of the line.

Dredd could have done with more of the world exploration presented in its strong opening scene but presumably the film’s limited budget wouldn’t allow it. Still, these first moments will certainly tickle South African audiences, as the on-location filming in Cape Town is noticeable and comes complete with minibuses as the dystopian vehicle of choice. Personally, the film’s opening also triggered a massive desire to play a Judge Dredd video game in the free-roaming style of Batman: Arkham City. But I digress.

With a confined setting, and action that flows and ebbs, it falls to Dredd’s cast to keep things interesting. Fortunately, the film benefits in this department. Characters aren’t especially developed but refuse to fit comfortably into the Hollywood mould. For example, there is nothing sexy, vulnerable or diva-ish about Headey’s Ma-Ma (compare Charlize Theron’s queen in Snow White and the Huntsman). Ma-Ma is a black ma-mba: sly, cruel, powerful and effective.

Thirlby’s Anderson, meanwhile, is the film’s emotional centre, physically and psychologically more vulnerable than the other characters. This said, she’s still able to deliver when the chips are down. Plus, in other ways she’s as much of a potent weapon against crime as Dredd.

As for Dredd himself, Urban’s take on the character is a lot more human than I expected from the marketing material. The new faceless Dredd is not Stallone’s genetically engineered supercop on steroids. He’s tough but not invulnerable – more Dirty Harry or Death Wish’s Paul Kersey. Plus he gets to growl a handful of choice lines.

A few gripes aside – the film could have done with a bit more dark humour, and the 3D is only noteworthy in the Slo-Mo scenes – Dredd is worth watching. Providing yet another case that R-rated comic book films for adults have a place, and can be done well, the movie will no doubt see its reputation grow over time and develop a cult status among the grown-up geek crowd.

Four stars out of five.


Cleric said…
I was quite surprised to see that you're reviewing the 3D version, as I thought you'd be avoiding 3D films due to their poor use if the tech.

Good read. Your review gives me confidence that it's rather safe to go watch this without much disappointment :)
Pfangirl said…
Hey Cleric, Dredd can only be watched in SA in 3D. The film was at least specifically shot for the format though instead of being a conversion. I'm avoiding the latter now out of principle.
Cleric said…
I agree, conversion is terri-bad. Shot specifically for the format is the only way to go :)

Popular posts from this blog

Is the rebooted Lara Croft gay? Evidence for and against...

Fun for Monday: Your Pop Culture Myers-Briggs Personality Type

Ladies I Love: Part 2 - Rhona Mitra