Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Bloody Violence, Language, Drug Use and some Sexual Content
Directed by: Pete Travis
Written by: Alex Garland
(based on the JUDGE DREDD comics)
Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Wood Harris & Domhnall Gleeson
After Sylvester Stallone tarnished the franchise in 1995, it seemed like the character of Judge Dredd would never see the big screen again. Obviously, the tides changed as we have this 2012 reboot. However, some studio exec is probably feeling bad about their decision to green light this project because it bombed at the box office, but that’s not due to lack of quality. DREDD is one of the best action films of the new millennium. Graphically violent, beautiful to look at, and well executed all around, DREDD is a comic book film that actually makes me want to read the comic series that it’s based on. There’s no other way of putting it. This film is a perfectly realized, non-stop adrenaline rush from beginning to end.
In the far distant future, the United States is a radiated wasteland. The dwindling population live in massive 200-floor apartment blocks and judges, the highest form of law enforcement, patrol the streets. These helmet-wearing judges also serve as jury and on-the-spot executioners. Judge Dredd serves in Mega-City One, a place where 17,000 crimes are reported daily. Dredd’s latest assignment is unlike his others in that he’s evaluating Anderson, a telepathic rookie who wants to make a difference. Dredd and Anderson take a triple-homicide call at a rundown tower block. The murders are the result of vicious drug lord Ma-Ma who locks down the block and orders the execution of these two judges upon their arrival. Violence, action, and chaos ensue as Dredd and Anderson are forced to fight for their lives through the vast tower block.
I must confess that I didn’t see DREDD in theaters because the plot sounded like a knockoff of THE RAID (in which a group of cops are forced to fight their way out of 40 floors of chaos in an apartment building). While the basic set-up might be similar between the two films, DREDD’s execution could not be more different. This sci-fi actioner is heavily stylized, uses its futuristic environment to showcase a ton of wild set pieces, and relies on the dynamic between its two judges to further the story along. Though only made on a budget of 45 million (which is far smaller than the production values of the film suggest), the world looks very well-developed (down to the tiniest details) and every penny was clearly stretched to make this into the best possible film that it could be. The results are staggering and I loved every second of it.
As Judge Dredd, Karl Urban never once removes the helmet and shows his face. This was in keeping with the comic books and makes the character a bit harder to read (seeing as his eyes are obscured). Typical character traits of the judges are them being relatively detached and keeping their emotions in apathetic check, so this served the character of Dredd all the better. Meanwhile, Judge Anderson could not be further from Urban’s lead. Played by Olivia Thirlby, Anderson is a much more vulnerable and sympathetic heroine. She’s not above executing a sniveling thug in broad daylight, but she definitely has a soft spot that lends to her being the more human of the two characters. She has empathy for those around her, a quality that makes for an entertaining and interesting contrast between herself and Dredd. Meanwhile, Lena Headey is perfectly cast as Ma-Ma. The scarred villainess with bad teeth is downright despicable and receives one of the most satisfying moments in the entire film.
The violence in DREDD is pretty insane when you consider that this film received an R rating. I’m surprised (in a good way) that it wasn’t cut down a little more because this definitely skirts the line of NC-17 level gore during many scenes. Severed limbs are tossed around. Heads are blown into unrecognizable chunks. Gore is strewn everywhere. Dredd has a gun that rotates through different ammunition (depending on his situation), thus allowing more diverse shoot-outs to occur. Some of the action is made beautiful with Slo-Mo, Ma-Ma’s new drug, serving as a plot device. This narcotic allows time to slow down for its users and we see a few action scenes from these slowed down points-of-view. This beautifully rendered slow-motion makes for some of the most creative sci-fi action sequences since THE MATRIX trilogy.
DREDD may have a simple plot, but that’s far from a bad thing. This film serves as a day in the life of Judge Dredd and has transformed me into a fan of the helmeted hero. Though it didn’t do well at the box office, DREDD has gone on to rightfully become a cult classic with a significant fan base behind it (sort of like this generation’s BLADE RUNNER). While hopes of a follow-up seem pretty dim, I would frigging love to see at least two more sequels to this film. The use of colors, creative ideas, compelling characters, and visceral (imaginative) violence make this one of the best action movies of the new millennium. I judge DREDD and find it guilty…of being fucking awesome!