First, a question: Is the full title of this movie actually Dredd 3D? What about the 2D version, that they’re also showing? Is that called Dredd 2D? Will a sequel be called Dredd 2 3D or Dredd 3D 2? Well, what I hope is the case is that this movie is in fact just called Dredd. That’s the only sensible thing, so that’s what ahmana call it. Anyway, onwards.
I remember when the Stallone movie came out in 1995. Seemed promising; I always thought Stallone’s chin looked a lot like that of the comic-book Judge Dredd. Sadly, the movie was middling at best, never really succeeding in capturing the humor or attitude of the comic book. And while I hated the comic relief sidekick (Rob Schneider – thankfully not on his worst behavior, but awful enough), the 1995 movie did have a certain ‘80s-style brightness, some elements of which I found attractive. I rated it 5 stars out of 10, and it’s a movie I still find worth watching from time to time.
Fast forward to 2012 and the new Dredd movie. Thankfully, it’s not a remake of the previous Hollywood effort, but a new version of the comic book. Also thankfully, it doesn’t spend half the movie on some inane origin story (as for instance 2004’s The Punisher did). No, one of the major strengths of this new movie is that it plays out exactly like some single issue of a Judge Dredd comic book. We have a single, coherent adventure, where Dredd has reluctantly been saddled with a new recruit; a psychic Judge-in-training, namely the female rookie named Anderson (also a major figure in the comics). He lets her decide which emergency to respond to, and at the end of the day he has to evaluate her; essentially decide if she flunks or passes.
Anderson decides to investigate three murders from a skyscraper complex; a huge apartment block which is home to 75,000 people. Apparently, the law has been leaving this building to its own devices for some time, and a crime mistress by the name of Ma-Ma has gradually taken over the block by way of a popular drug called Slo-Mo, which slows down the brain’s perception of time (thus making for some pretty spiffy action scenes). When Ma-Ma hears that there are Judges in the building, who are arresting and killing some of her lieutenants, she orders a lock-down, sealing the building. Now all the innumerable criminals try to kill Dredd and Anderson. They dig in, trying to ride out the rain of bullets and bombs.
I have debated at length with myself whether this is a good or a bad movie. There are things to recommend it, and things I don’t like. To explain why I am rating it a mere 6 stars out of 10, I will focus on the bad things.
First, it is too dark. The comic book is fairly colorful, but the movie is another one which is sadly shadowy all the way through. I am emphatically not a fan of movies where everything is dark all the time. Our characters are trapped in a completely shuddered building, and have to run around dark corridors, while wearing almost entire black uniforms. Where the uniforms have a little red on them, the color is still covered in dirt and dust. I have never been a fan of the attitude that only black clothes are cool, and I really think that trend has run its course by now.
Second, the whole movie is virtually a single, extended action scene. A scene, not a story. It doesn’t give much of an impression of which kind of fictional world this is all taking place in; there are very few characters, and the one-liners they spout, with the exception of a couple, are mostly not very good. Being little more than an action scene, the movie is filled with extreme in-your-face violence; indeed, it is one of the purest instances of movie violence I have ever seen. Is it entertaining? Well, to a degree. Is it interesting; does it have anything to say; any form of artistic element at all? No, it does not. There is almost no plot, nor much of anything that makes this movie distinctive in any other way than some visual shots of the Slo-Mo influence.
Third, Anderson’s psychic abilities. They are not put to much use; in fact, by the end it is a bit as if they made no difference at all. Disappointing.
Fourth, and worst, there is no humor. No satire. No theme about a police state, which is the theme that the comic book is based on. There is no connection to the punk movement that the comic book grew out of; no political statements of any kind. The concept has been pared down to lazy action and violence, for people who find it gratifying to lean back and watch a lot of gun-play, with no redeeming features besides. I didn’t like this when I saw it in The Crow (1994), either.
Things get a little bit better when it comes to the actors. Olivia Thirlby is great as Anderson, and there isn’t much to criticize about Karl Urban, either; both of these are just about perfect (except that their uniforms should have a bit more color). Still, I didn’t get as much pleasure out of watching Karl Urban as I had expected. I am finding that what I like about him is, to a great extent, his face. So much of Karl Urban’s charisma and personality is in his face. He has a much better facial mimicry than most American actors. In Dredd, I find myself a bit disappointed (even though it’s true to the comic) that he’s just wearing that helmet all the time. Acting without a face is… just not the same, all the more so in his case.
In short, I expected a lot more from this movie. The problem with both this and the 1995 movie is that they’ve gone establishment. The comic book is a thinly veiled critique of the elements of our own society that radicals view as a police state, meaning that the Judges are the oppressive rulers of an authoritarian state, and hence in many ways the villains. But in both movies the Judges are portrayed as the good guys; the rugged heroes who are a ruined world’s only chance for justice. I admit, when the world is as ruined as all that, it’s difficult not to root for any take-charge champion who claims to work for justice, but this is just another of the corners that the comic book has conceptually painted itself into, and its weakness is displayed when trying to make a movie version. Just having that extra element of anti-oppression sentiment as part of the mix would probably confuse a lot of movie-goers, and so the producers, as ever, opt for something simpler. Hence, we don’t get a good Judge Dredd movie out of it.
Director: Pete Travis
Cast: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Heady and others.
Runtime: 95 min.
Country: USA, UK, India