- Release Date: 9/21/2012
- Running Time: 95 minutes
- Directed By: Pete Travis
- Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey
When I first heard about DREDD, I groaned and shuddered. Remakes and reboots are typically far inferior to the original product, and considering the first foray into John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra’s 2000 A.D. source material became the monstrosity that was Sly Stallone’s JUDGE DREDD, that boded poorly for this film. But perhaps these are the type of movies we should be remaking. Less risk and backlash because you can only go up.
I did some research, learning that Pete Travis (of VANTAGE POINT) was directing a script by up and comer Alex Garland, who wrote the excellent scripts to SUNSHINE and 28 DAYS LATER (as well as NEVER LET ME GO), and is set to bring HALO and a reboot of LOGAN’S RUN to the big screen. The more I saw of the viral campaign, of teasers and TV spots, and read the interviews given by the creative team and the cast, including fan favorite Karl Urban (who’s already earned his Comic Convention stripes with his role in STAR TREK) the more intrigued I became.
Then DREDD premiered to fairly universal raves at Comic-Con, a promising sign, because the opposite would’ve sunk the movie (of course its $2.2 million opening day doesn’t look good). Up until yesterday, the Rotten Tomatoes ranking stood at 90%. Now, it’s at 78%, which is still incredible for a 3-D dystopian action flick based on a fairly obscure comic book.
78% is about right. DREDD 3D (I actually did splurge and see it in 3-D due to the lauded SFX, and didn’t regret it as I usually do) is pure summer escapism in the fall, with brilliant, super bloody, creative action. DREDD is all dystopia. America is a wasteland laid rank by nuclear warfare, with mega buildings spanning from Boston to Washington D.C., making up Mega City One, a cesspool of drugs, crime, and bite sized social commentary. Mega City One has a crime rate that would make Detroit blush, and the only thing (attempting to) keep order are the “Judges,” patrolling the streets on high tech motorcycles and doling out punishment to the vagrants of society. These “Judges” are the law, pure and simple. It’s a black and white, militant answer to a city plagued by poverty, listlessness, and evil. Recently, a new drug has hit Mega City One: SLO-MO, a drug that makes your body feel like it’s moving at 1% of its normal capacity. When thugs use SLO-MO, the movie shines, literally and figuratively; it’s so beautiful and cool to watch scenes in this SLO-MO (especially when interspersed with real time cinematography) that it almost seems like the movie’s message is that drugs are awesome. Hey, I’m not arguing.
The creator and distributor of SLO-MO, is Ma-Ma (the future looks good for the hyphen, and not much else), played by Lena Headey, a perfect choice for a villain who began her rise to power by biting off the dick of a John. She’s scarred and sadistic, and has taken over all 200 floors of the Peach Trees building from rival gangs, a block known for its crime, even in a city drowning in it. Enter Judge Dredd (Urban, with the Dredd grimace down pat), and new recruit Anderson (the beautiful and innocent Olivia Thirlby, of JUNO and BORED TO DEATH). Anderson failed her tests (by three points) to become a Judge, but she’s getting a field assessment anyways because of her remarkable psychic abilities, against Dredd’s wishes. She’s a mutant. While there’s clearly more where that came from, the history and X-MEN-ness of the muties are left to the side for the most part, begging to be used in a sequel (if we’re lucky enough to have one).
Fortunately, there are some awesome psychic scenes with Anderson, as she struggles through the 200 floors of the Peach Trees with Dredd. The pair respond to a triple homicide in the block, and when they lay siege to a drug den and capture Kay (THE WIRE’s Wood Harris), who has enough information to bring down Ma-Ma’s whole operation, Ma-Ma responds by locking the building down in “war” mode with the help of the creepy-as-hell Clan Techie (HARRY POTTER’s Domnhall Gleeson). Then it is two hundred floors of criminals against Dredd and a recruit he’s taking around town against his will. It’s a dreamy set up for an action movie, a perfect recipe for a butt load of ‘against the odds’ violence, carnage, explosions, and even some characterization sprinkled in (thanks to Thirlby). Her encounters with Kay, both funny and horrifying, keep the movie afloat amidst the constant action.
There are many typical action sequences in the movie, but Garland and Travis excel in putting their own take and twist on the genre, or going further than you’d expect. From the first scene, you know DREDD won’t pull any punches, and doesn’t waste its time caring if it’s judged by you as harshly as Dredd judges the citizens of Mega City One. The film is littered with cheesy one liners as they are gritted through the teeth of Karl Urban, I’m talking lines that would feel at home in a Stallone or Schwarzenegger film, and that’s something I don’t mean as an insult, even with the reaction a Stallone reference may illicit to hardcore 2000 A.D. fans.
It’s not a classic, but the movie is low brow fun, beautiful to look at amongst the filth (the SLO-MO is fantastic, especially in 3D), and a worthwhile reboot. That’s about all you can ask for.