Review 17: Dredd (5/5)

Dredd

Directed by Pete Travis

Starring Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Wood Harris, Domhnall Gleeson

Released on September 21, 2012

Running time: 1h 36m

Rated R

Genre: Sci-fi, Fantasy, Action

I will begin by making one thing quite clear: I have not read any of the Judge Dredd comics. I just know that Judge Joseph Dredd is a very adult antihero. He is dark, brooding, gruff, rough, tough, buff, and is the foremost upholder and enforcer of the law. He is utterly consumed by his job. He is emotionless, towers over everyone, and mercilessly deals out justice in the dying Mega City One. He knows the system is defunct. But he still tries to do what’s right in an overwhelmingly dark, post-apocalyptic world. A light in the darkness.

So, as you can imagine, I, despite not having read the comics, thought Judge Dredd was pretty cool.

After hearing that the 1995 Judge Dredd movie with Sylvester Stallone flopped harder than an impotent, flaccid penis, I was not excited for the 2012 movie Dredd. I was immediately suspicious of the casting of Karl Urban as Dredd himself. I have seen Urban’s acting range from delightfully cheesy in Star Trek and Into Darkness to somewhat bland in Priest. So, I think Karl Urban is a mixed bag. I also thought that casting Lena Headey as the villain was a confusing choice. I didn’t want to see her stoop any lower than The Purge. And Olivia Thirlby? She can look like she’s playing someone who’s about twenty, but she’s a little too Hollywood. Oh, and there was only a budget of about $46 million. Pretty meager for an action film. I read up on Dredd, and went in expecting it to be mediocre at the most, laughably bad at the worst.

But I was pleasantly surprised.

Our story begins with a view of the incredibly realistic-looking Mega City One. No sarcasm intended. Right off the bat, the Mega City One is bleak and gloomy. Brutally realistic. Rundown. Overrun. Overwhelmed. Dying.

Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) gives a voiceover about the dying Mega City One, and then takes down three petty crooks that recently got high.

It turns out that a new and incredibly addictive narcotic, Slo-Mo, is hitting the streets. It’s a vapor ingested via inhaler that makes the brain feel like time is passing by at one percent of its normal rate. And it also makes for some impressive gore effects, as well as other special effects. Mostly with the color scheme. but seriously. Sequences that involve the use of Slo-Mo look gorgeous. The production and citywide distribution of Slo-Mo is headed by the massive clan of the nihilistic drug queenpin (get it?) Madeleine Madrigal, AKA Ma-Ma (Headey), who skins three junkies, jacks them up on Slo-Mo, and throws them off the 200th story of her base, the kilometer-high Mega Block known as Peach Trees, which is home to tens of thousands of people.

Dredd meets up with the Chief Justice and a rookie named Anderson (Olivia Thirlby). Anderson failed her first aptitude test, but she, thanks to her psychic abilities, is being given a second chance. Her test will be overseen by Dredd and will take place at Peach Trees.

The two go to Peach Trees to investigate the triple homicide, and they bust a group of druggies. One of them that they arrest, named Kay (Harris), is apparently a very important figure in Ma-Ma’s drug ring, and she cannot let the two Judges interrogate him. She has her men hack into the building’s security system and shut the blast doors and windows, effectively trapping the two Judges inside. Ma-Ma announces the Judges’ presence to the building and orders her men to kill them.

The Judges’ comms are scrambled, and their only hope is to fight their way to the top of Peach Trees and finally confront Ma-Ma.

Karl Urban must have been a huge fan of Judge Dredd, because he does not just play Dredd. He literally BECOMES Dredd. His bland (for the most part) acting is perfect for this role. He constantly has this slightly comical frown. He is an emotionless, walking, stalking killing machine. But he is also human. In one scene, he is shot and feels pain and fear. But he remains stoic. He never loses his composure.

Olivia Thirlby is a little too Hollywood for the role, but only a little bit. It’s nice to know that her character grows throughout the movie. She starts out thinking she’s ready for anything, but she realizes that she’s completely unprepared for what awaits her in Peach Trees. She has to kill someone for the first time. She gets shot for the first time. And she ultimately realizes and accepts that the life of a Judge(ess) is not for her.

Lena Headey gives us a surprisingly good performance as Ma-Ma. She manages to put forth the guise of high-as-a-kite junkie, being a drug lord, and not caring about the difference between right and wrong. She started out as a hooker until she bit her pimp’s balls off during a blowjob. She rose through the ranks of her clan through violent and terroristic means.  She’s not afraid to skin three junkies and throw them off the top of Peach Trees to tell the Judges not to mess with her. She’s not afraid to sacrifice her goons and massacre men, women, and children in an attempt to kill Dredd and Anderson. And she’s not nearly as comical as Armand Assante as Rico in the Stallone ’95 movie.

RICO: He worships the laaaawww.

(Later)

RICO: You want fear? I’m fear. You want chaos? I’m chaos. You want a new beginning? HUH? [SLAM] I AM THE NEW BEGINNING!

(Later)

DREDD: You killed innocent people!

RICO: The means to an end!

DREDD: You started a massacre!

RICO: I started a revolution!

DREDD: You betrayed the law!

RICO: LAAAAAAAAWWWWW!

There were two things about Stallone ’95 that got people really pissed off.

1. Dredd removes his helmet.

2. It was lighthearted and comical.

Urban ’12 avoids both of these issues like the plague. The only bit of Dredd’s flesh we see is his perpetual comical frown.

It is as grounded in reality as ever. Sure, it’s futuristic, but I think we only see one aircraft whatsoever. It looks like a major metropolis. It looks like what New York City or Los Angeles or Chicago or Detroit could turn into.

Even though the film doesn’t start out on a high note, it still does not end happily. Anderson forsakes her badge and leaves Dredd without even a goodbye. Dredd lets her go, but tells the Chief Justice that she passed. Dredd has become only slightly more human. While Ma-Ma been killed, her goons were even able to infiltrate the ranks of the Hall of Justice, and countless civilians on Level 75 are dead.

Geez. This is on the same level as the original Assault on Precinct 13.

The story is simple. Bad guy does bad things, and the good guys stop her.

It’s a predictable story, but rather than dealing with some apocalyptic threat, it’s simply a look into a day in the life of a Judge.

It doesn’t have big names like Sylvester Stallone, Armand Assante, Rob Schneider, Max Von Sydow, or James Earl Jones. But that’s a good thing.

Hey, at least Dredd’s suit isn’t made of spandex.

And at least the brass codpiece remains on the inside of the suit.

And at least it’s less comical than

DREDD: You betrayed the law!

RICO: LAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWW!

Final verdict: 5 out of 5 stars.

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