Justice is served.
The H-Bomb: Some time in the not so far off future, nuclear war has radiated most of United States (a set-up that never gets old), and people have been forced to live in walled-in Mega-Cities. Mega-City One, which stretches from what used to be Boston to what used to be Washington D.C., has a population of 800 million inhabitants, and the streets are over-run with crime. A new designer drug, Slo-Mo, which causes users to perceive time in slow motion (Duh!), is only making matters worse.
The only hope for law and order in this post-apocalyptic toilet of a society are the Judges; elite, highly trained cops who have the authority to apprehend, convict, and immediately pass down sentences to criminals, even death, if the situation calls for it. One such Judge is Dredd (Karl Urban), a notoriously quick-triggered Peace Officer who shows no mercy to those who come down on the wrong side of the law. He usually works alone and prefers it that way, which is why he is none-to-appreciative when his superiors saddle him with a new partner.
It’s not enough that this new partner, Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), is a woman, she’s not even a full-fledged Judge, but a trainee who happens to have a rather unique ability… she’s psychic, a mutation from the nuclear war. Dredd has been assigned to assess her job performance throughout the day and then give her a final evaluation at the end. He’s less than pleased about this arrangement, but orders are orders. Little does Dredd know that he and his trainee are in for one hell of a day, when they respond to a triple homicide at a massive, two hundred story apartment complex.
This mile-high apartment block happens to belong to Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), a much feared crime queen with a jagged scar on her face and a talent for emasculating men with her mouth. She also happens to be the main manufacturer and supplier of Slo-Mo, and when one of her top lackeys is arrested by Dredd and Anderson in connection to the triple homicide, she knows that he could spill everything about her entire operation. So Ma-Ma places the entire complex under lock down, closing off all possible exits, and orders her entire army of thugs to hunt down and kill the two Judges. It would seem like all the odds are in Ma-Ma’s favor, but little does she know, she’s fuckin’ with the wrong Judge!
When Dredd (or Dredd 3D, as it was called in theaters) was released last September, it tanked fast and hard, despite some surprisingly strong reviews. I would imagine that the main reason people passed it up in theaters, even with the positive word-of-mouth, was due to its unavoidable association with an earlier attempt to bring the comic book hero by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra to the big screen, the wretched 1995 Sylvester Stallone vehicle Judge Dredd, which featured what had to be Sly’s most embarrassingly abysmal performance ever. His reading of the now infamous slogan, “I AM DUH LAAAAAA!!!” was so hilariously Dredd-ful that his own sidekick, Rob Schneider, actually mocked it in the movie! And when even Rob Schneider has room to ridicule your performance, you have got to be doing something wrong! Hell, I was fourteen years old when it came out, and not all that discriminating a moviegoer back then, and even I walked out thinking, “God, that sucked!” I’m convinced it was the movie going public’s not-so-fond memories of that epic poop storm that caused them to stay far away from this new, and entirely different, take on the character.
In fact, I remember some months back, our editor Rick Swift, expressing his own lack of interest in the movie, saying that Judge Dredd wasn’t exactly screaming for a redo. I must respectfully disagree. Something like Total Recall, which they got right the first time, shouldn’t be remade. Judge Dredd, on the other hand, which they royally fudged up the first time around, is exactly the kind of movie that should be redone, so that, hopefully, they can finally get it right. It should be noted, I’ve never read the Judge Dredd comics, so obviously I can’t call myself a fan of the character. But, the idea of cops in the future who act as judge, jury, and executioner does has the potential to be pretty fuckin’ cool, and if someone actually manages to make a good movie out of it, I’d be interested in seeing it.
Well, Dredd is that movie. Dredd is very much that movie. It’s a kind of action flick that’s rare these days… the kind that doesn’t nueter itself and pander only to children. No sir, this is an unflinchingly violent bullet fest in which brains decorate the walls and torsos are turned inside out, all compliments of a defiantly un-PC hero who isn’t the slightest bit squeamish about getting a little blood on his hands, nor is he even remotely interested in being any kind of role model. As you’ve probably guessed, this roller coaster ride wears its R-rating proudly on its sleeve, and as directed by Pete Travis (Vantage Point), once it gets rolling, it doesn’t stop for nothin’.
Travis really did some fantastic work, coming up with 3D shots that were truly inventive. I should note that I didn’t see this in 3D, but I hear they were quite jaw-dropping, and given that they look pretty slick even in 2D, I’m willing to buy into the word of mouth on that one. Travis also deserves props for using slow motion in a way that feels fresh and that’s actually a part of the story, and not just some cliched gimmick. The sequence where a character falls 200 stories to their death in slo-mo… that I would give my left nut to see in three dimensions. And even though the action is almost non-stop, it never became numbing or repetitive, so Travis definitely deserves props for that.
On to the cast, I just need to say, Urban is fucking perfect as Dredd. Forget any of that hammy shit that Sly tried to shove on us, this guy is Judge Dredd. He’s got balls of steel and a “don’t you dare fuck with me” authority to him. Put ten of him in every major city and watch the crime rate drop to nothing. Urban manages to convey so much more than Stallone ever could, and we can actually understand what the hell he’s saying, to boot. Yeah, the voice he’s using is another variation of the Christian Bale Batman growl… but he does it so well, and he manages to utter the line, “I am the law” without sounding like some slurry, punch-drunk fucktard. This movie should’ve made Urban a full fledged star, if only anyone actually went to see the damn thing.
Thirlby, portraying the very green Judge Anderson, brings a perfect mix of naivete and nervousness, and is quite credible when the story finally calls on her to stand up and start kicking ass. Headey, as the vicious, wiener-biting bitch, Ma-Ma, is a real delight. Trying hard to look ugly and almost succeeding, its obvious she knows exactly what kind of movie she’s in, and she’s clearly just having a blast amping it up to the max as this awesomely ruthless villain. I fuckin’ loved her.
Now, if it isn’t obvious, yeah, I liked Dredd… a lot. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t have a complaint or two. It struck me as I was watching the movie, and then bugged me even more after I really thought about it; throughout the film, no matter how badly Dredd was outnumbered, or how dire his predicament got, Dredd always seemed to be in control of the situation. Any time trouble would arise, his demeanor was always, “Step aside, Rookie, I got this.” And yeah, he always “got it.” Most of the time he got it way too easily. So while the action never ceased to entertain, Dredd’s cool-headed and swift handling of every problem kind of robbed the movie of any real suspense it could’ve had. The final confrontation with Ma-Ma was especially way too pat.
But hey, I can’t begrudge the movie that, because I had such a great time with it, nonetheless. Yeah, it’s nothing revolutionary. This isn’t the second coming of Citizen Kane. It doesn’t reinvent cinema as we know it. It’s simply a bullet-spraying, schizoid-crazy action fest, and ya know what, that’s good enough. I’m even willing to forgive it for completely ripping off the plot of The Raid: Redemption, another fantastic action flick from the past year. Like pretty the much the rest of the planet, I missed Dredd when it crash-landed into theaters, and you know what? It was my loss, and yours, too. We all share in the guilt for allowing it to flop so undeservedly. Now, that it’s out on Blu-ray/DVD, is the time to undo that grave injustice.