There are two films that this new Dredd immediately reminded me of. The first, perhaps unsurprisingly, is The Raid: Redemption, because they have an almost identical plot. The other is Punisher: War Zone, an underrated film and the last comic book movie to get an 18 certificate. Judge Dredd, like The Punisher, is a comic book hero that doesn’t shy away from some of the old ultraviolence to deal with criminals, and both films feature a lot of violence (although maybe I am just desensitised but I didn’t see anything especially shocking in Dredd) but I sure am glad they went for the 18 certificate and had it pay off. Hopefully this might pave the way for more 18+ comic book movies in the future. Fortunately one film it didn’t remind me of is the Stallone Judge Dredd movie as it was so superior as to be unrecognisable, making this the perfect remake/revamp and exactly the sort of thing the movie industry should be doing instead of remaking films that were good the first time around. Remake the shit ones! It’s pretty obvious if you think about it.
Unlike the Punisher though, Dredd operates inside the law, in fact he is famously ‘Judge Judy and executioner’, a one man judicial system, hunting down criminals and passing a sentence for their crime, complete with on the spot executions. This is done extremely well in the film, the script has Dredd taking a rookie – Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) – along for the day, and the adherence to the (admittedly quite harsh) law is what separates Dredd from a more typical action movie vigilante. As soon as a perp breaks the law, Dredd will respond with appropriate measures, and if someone has broken the law, Dredd will stop at nothing to hunt them down. Like the Punisher (and Batman) he is driven and determined and utterly uncompromising. The film really nails this aspect of his character, and Karl Urban is suitably imposing and gruff in the role.
The film is clearly set at quite an early stage of Dredd’s notorious career. He is veteran enough that the Chief Judge trusts him to put a rookie through the grinder, but not so veteran that he has gained his reputation among all the criminals of Megacity One just yet. This is a good move by the script writers and is the perfect way to start what will hopefully turn into a series of films, with Dredd earning his legendary status. The story establishes the characters well, especially Judge Anderson who, unlike most similar characters in her situation, doesn’t act like a over-sensitive foil to Dredd’s hard-nosed style, all being a big girl about executing criminals or whatever – rather she gets stuck in with impressive gusto. She earns Dredd’s respect and by extension the respect of the audience. There is nothing so annoying as whiny secondary characters who do nothing but hamper the hero’s rampage, and it’s a common mistake in this sort of film. Good writing avoids that.
Ma-Ma, the criminal overlord is also well done, though it is unsettling to see Cersei Lannister literally, rather than metaphorically, emasculating people. I guess Lena Heady doesn’t want to get typecast as a wicked fairytale queen so she took on a radically different role, and I think she pulled it off pretty well, although her accent falters on occasion and she cannot swear convincingly. It was also nice to see Avon Barksdale from The Wire (Wood Harris) has survived in Megacity One, and his character performed quite a vital role of being able to act throughout the film using his whole face when talking to Judge Anderson, something Dredd can’t do as he never removes his helmet. Dredd, like Robocop, is great to watch during action sequences but depends on other people around him for the human element. Again, a good idea and good writing.
Initially the version of Megacity One they went with in the film is a bit jarring, the vehicles, guns and clothing all look contemporary rather than sci-fi. But this is a good move, saving the small budget for other things rather than trying to make it stretch to create an entire sci-fi world. Megacity One doesn’t look like how I would have expected, but it looks fine and it looks believable, and once the action goes indoors then things start looking a lot more accurate to the comics anyway.
The only real criticism I have is the use of 3D (although I am grateful that the film was not called DR3DD at least, considerable restraint shown there). The effects used for the slow motion drug were actually very nice and one of the best uses of 3D I have seen, but most of the film didn’t benefit from 3D whatsoever. It may as well have said ‘put on 3D glasses now’ at a few choice moments. There was no reason to exclusively release in 3D just for this slow motion effect, and like with every 3D film I now just want to see it in a nice Bluray so I can watch the film without all the blurry darkness.