Dredd (2012) / Action-Sci Fi

MPAA rated: R for strong bloody violence, language, drug use, and some sexual content
Length: 95 min.

Cast: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Wood Harris, Rakie Ayola, Langley Kirkwood,, Domhnall Gleason
Director: Pete Travis
Screenplay: Alex Garland (based on the comics character created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra)
Review published December 27, 2012

Dredd 2012In the future, the only thing keeping the world from anarchy is a system of justice that has the cops able to be police officer, judge and executioner in one, dispatching their verdict, often the death penalty in this crazy world, right on the spot.

Karl Urban (Star Trek, Pathfinder) stars as Judge Dredd, the leading law enforcement Judge in Megacity One, the walled megalopolis that spans a good chunk of the US's northeast (Boston to the District of Columbia) and that houses 800 million people in a claustrophobic, post-apocalyptic society. He is reluctantly paired up with a rookie cop named Anderson (Thirlby, No Strings Attached), who has failed her aptitude test to be on the force, but her mutant psychic abilities have the dept. heads wanting Dredd to evaluate her usefulness nonetheless. They are tested immediately, as they get called out to a large mega-block named Peach Trees, a slum-like 200-story high-rise building where the crazed, murderous drug dealer named Ma-Ma (Headey, 300) rules, and she has a deadly new drug that's sweeping through the city named Slo-Mo, which slows down the perceivable world outside of the abuser to 1% normal speed. The duo of Judges make a bust, grab one of Ma-Ma's henchmen for questioning, only to have Ma-Ma put the building on shutdown, instructing everyone inside that they will be trapped until the Judges are both dead.

If there's one thing Dredd manages to kill successfully, it is the strong aftertaste of the prior 1995 Sylvester Stallone adaptation, Judge Dredd. Stallone had made several mistakes in the making of that film, including giving Judge Dredd far more personality, and spending a good deal of his time with his helmet off. The Dredd of the pages of comic anthology magazine '2000AD' was far less verbose and chummy, far more deadpan and hard-ass, and that is the vibe of this 2012 update by director Pete Travis (Endgame, Vantage Point) and screenwriter Alex Garland (Sunshine, 28 Days Later). It allows Dredd a modicum of humor, as he is so intractable in his mission, he becomes more daring in his pursuit and more nasty in how he dispatches those who break the inviolable laws in Megacity One. This film has nothing to do with the 1995 version, and instead should be seen as a reboot done far more faithfully to the original intent.

The premise of Dredd is a barebones plot of survival, fighting to survive as Dredd and Anderson must blast their way up to the top floor, where the enemy boss resides. It's the kind of plot one could imagine would be a better fit for an ultraviolent FPS video game than a movie. But the plot, as simple as it is, works here, thanks in large part to the tight, action-packed direction by Pete Travis. Not that it is the most original premise, as the 2011 Indonesian film, The Raid, has a nearly identical one, not to mention classic action flicks like Bruce Lee's Game of Death and their ilk.

Dredd was originally released in theaters as Dredd 3D, and one can tell from the visuals, with its deep hallways and lots of artillery blasting full bore, that it takes full advantage of the process, particularly in the depiction of Slo-Mo, which is peppered with sparkles and warped colors to dazzle the eyes. It's a superfluous gimmick, but I can't say it isn't an impressive visual nonetheless. The film is extremely violent, as people don't just get shot, their heads get rendered asunder by bullets blasting, and bodies becomes bloody mush as they get tossed from floors hundreds of stories up. The gore isn't needed in the slightest, and may turn off some viewers, but when you're dealing with the level of evil that the bad guys are portrayed as exhibiting, the feeling of just desserts manages to temper the gratuity somewhat, as it had been in a similar vehicle, RoboCop (just one of many comparisons one could draw between the two franchises). For the squeamish, just remember that you have been warned about the near-pornographic level of brutality.

Also, as in RoboCop, there is a female officer who provides the story's conscience, and the psychic powers angle does give the plotline more play than just as a numbskulled shoot-'em-up. Thirlby does a nice job in contrasting the fear of the situation with Urban's complete deadpan reaction to everything. What the film needs at its heart is a sign that not everyone is an amoral beast, and the character of Anderson provides all of the pathos necessary to tell the audience that the filmmaker aren't just reveling in excess violence just for the sake of it. They know it's repugnant, and you can see it by the look on Anderson's face.

Alas, what's missing from Dredd that we might have gotten from a Verhoeven opus is the underlying satire and comic relief, but then that would take it away even more from its source material, which is precisely what the filmmakers had been wanting to avoid. Dredd really only delivers one basic thing -- wanton carnage on a platter -- but delivers it early, often, and quite well.
Qwipster's rating:

©2012 Vince Leo