Dredd (2012) is based on British comic book series 2000 AD, which began publication in the 70s. Wildly popular in Britain, the character has made it's way into American comic books as well, typically published by DC Comics, home of Superman and Batman.
The movie takes place in a future dystopian society where 800 Million people live in the remaining part of the United States that's still habitable. To house all these people in an area designed for a quarter that number, Megablocks are built. 200 stories of residences housing 75,000 people each. Most of the Megablocks end up being a breeding ground for unemployment, prostitution, gangs and drug trade. Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) and rookie Judge Anderson (a psychic, played by Olivia Thirlby) respond to a call to the Megablock called Peach Trees, which is home to a new drug called Slo-Mo and is run by the MaMa gang. Slo-Mo is a drug that makes the brain think time is moving at 1% normal speed. When one of the MaMa clan who knows too much is captured by Dredd, the block gets shut down. MaMa (played by a barely recognizable Lena Headey) orders the entire block to hunt down and kill the Judges. Dredd and Anderson then need to find a way to survive while also trying to take the fight to MaMa herself.
The property has been adapted for film once before. Judge Dredd (1995) starred Sylvester Stallone as the title character and it was pretty awful. Theme and tone of the film was way over the top. More importantly, the vast majority of the film has Stallone helmetless (the comic book character has never been seen without his helmet) and cast out of the Judges ranks, pretty much making it a standard Stallone actioner and not a Judge Dredd movie. The inclusion of Rob Schneider as comic relief only made matters worse. The owners of the character have since disavowed the film.
This time around, the movie stays much truer to the source material. In the opening sequence, we see Dredd suiting up to dispense justice for the day. Mostly in shadows, we see him put on the trademark helmet. It's never taken off again throughout the film. There is no first name given for Dredd nor any background. You get the sense right from the get go that Dredd isn't so much a person as he is a force for law and order in a city severly lacking both.
Karl Urban is cast as Dredd and does an admirable job with what he has. Sure, some of the dialogue is clunky and he's portraying a character pretty much devoid of emotion. Still, Urban is able to instill a sense of controlled intensity throughout the film. He never loses his cool but always seems like he's teetering just on the edge of it. Pretty impressive when you realize all of his acting had to take place without ever seeing his eyes.
Olivia Thirlby is rookie Judge Anderson. She plays an orphaned psychic who actually failed the testing to be a Judge but, because she's the best psychic they've ever seen, she's given to Dredd to evaluate to see if she can make it on the streets. Thirlby isn't terrible in this, but she isn't great either.
The action is fast and violent. It starts early and never really lets up. This movie is not for the squeamish as there's quite a bit of blood and gore. If you're a fan of the genre, you will not walk away disappointed.
Early in the film, the effect of slo-mo on someone is shown quite a bit. Initially, I was worried it was going to be overdone. Thankfully, the filmmakers wisely spent most of the second act focused on the action. I will say that, in seeing the movie in 3D in theatres, the slo-mo effect was one of the better uses of the technology that I've seen to date.
The look and feel of the movie is spot on. Gone is the spotless, spandex uniform worn in the 1995 film. Dredd's duds look like they've been to hell and back and so does he. The cityscape is done very well, making MegaCity One and it's Megablocks look just like any North American city might under the same circumstances. Peach Trees itself is a dull, dingy, 200 story ghetto that gets downright claustrophobic at times as the action moves from the ground floor all the way to the top.
The movie has it's flaws. As I've said, some of the dialogue is pretty corny, though it could've been a lot worse. The action scenes are fairly generic with nothing new brought to the table. The Anderson character is pretty much a throw away and didn't really need to be included in the film.
Despite it's flaws, though, this is a great action movie, a definite step up from it's predecessor and a fantastic adaption of a much beloved comic book character. It really is a shame it didn't fair well at the box office even with solid reviews as there is still a ton of story to be told here. Alas, I don't think we'll see a franchise develop.
4 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on Jan 01 2013
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on Jan 01 2013