Dredd Is The Perfect Blockbuster To Close The Summer – Review

Directed by Pete Travis

Based on 2000 AD‘s character of Judge Joe Dredd

Why are you interested in this adaptation?

Elena-

I…am not?  Can I admit that in a column about going to see a film?

I’ll be honest here, when Rachel said she wanted to see this movie I thought she was joking.  Then she demanded it in exchange for Lawless and I knew she wasn’t.

It looks terrible. Derivative, mindless dystopian action flick with the requisite battle-hardened commander who has to learn to believe in his troops and rookie girl who will be the only one of the team to survive.

Also the premise is a blatant rip-off of The Raid: Redemption, in that it’s a small group of soldiers going into a building full of criminals that gets locked down until they either fight their way to the top, and out, or die trying.

I will be generous and say some of the effects look like they could be interesting, but I will have to see how they are played out in the wider context of the scene.  Let’s hope this one is better than I think it will be.

Rachel –

I’m interested in Dredd because IT IS THE LAW!

Okay, because it’s a comic. A long-lived, crazy, sometimes brilliant comic that examines and critiques modern ideas of law and justice in the most hyperbolic way imaginable. In a way that could only be done via comic book (and now that the world accepts them…comic book movies). Plus, anything to get the Stallone version out of my consciousness.

What would make it awesome?

Elena-

If it’s got as much absolute badass action as The Raid: Redemption and as little concern for the plot and characterization.  Seriously, that film managed to set up in about 2 minutes the rest of the movie, and while it did manage to make you care a little about a couple of the characters—and learn not to care about others—mostly it was about how many different kinds of badass fights they could fit into 87 minutes.

Alternatively, if the filming is really interesting and shows me something I haven’t seen before with slow motion effects or relies on film technique instead of CG, then I will probably not feel like the whole thing was a waste of my time.  That is as close to awesome as I expect this one to reach barring some amazingly creative fight scenes.

Rachel-

Judge Joe Dredd IS awesome. This movie will be awesome if they just…let him kill bad guys and be really grim. I’m hoping it’s not a rehash of the super dramatic (and used for fodder in the Stallone version ((sobs))) storyline about Joe’s brother Rico being BAAAAD. I haven’t seen that in the trailer, mostly I’ve seen a set up for a Rookie and Dredd party. I’m okay with that.

What would make it suck? 

Elena-

If this movie tries to focus on a story that turns out to be cliché, predictable, and something SF fans have seen done better elsewhere.  There is nothing wrong with being a pure action movie; that is, a movie of pure action.  As long as you recognize that’s what you’re making and commit to it, the results can even be objectively good.  But you have to commit to that.  Alternatively you have to build a really compelling story and characters and sacrifice some of your action.  If you try that, and fail, it’s going to suck.  Actually if you try for straight action and fail it will also suck.

I really hope the people who made this movie watched Shoot ’Em Up and Sukiyaki Western Django a few dozen times before they started filming….

Rachel-

Aside – I don’t know what Sukiyaki Western Django is…but I assume it was extremely important to Tarantino’s latest Django Unchained…and that makes me want to watch it because I love me some Tarantino but I like to be able to watch his movies AND get the references. So put that on my list. Where does one acquire it?

Elena-

Actually it has nothing to do with Django Unchained, although it is a film Tarantino was connected to. But you would love it—lots of crazy, choreographed, over-the-top action. So Netflix it anyway.

Ahem.  Carry on.

Rachel-

Back to the question at hand – It’s going to suck if it’s too fluffy. If it’s one of those boring, plodding, predictable action movies. BUT I would love if this were a straight up action movie. Robocop is coming out, the Expendables franchise is a clear nod to the 80s/early 90s action movie golden age, so if it’s a liiiitttle cheesy 80s action grind, that would be fine.

Additional thoughts on production or casting?

Elena-

Well, it has been a while since I watched a good bad movie. I’m kind of hoping that even if this one is shit, it’s at least the kind of awful that is super-fun to mock.

Rachel-

EOMERRRRR! I love me some Karl Urban. That guy loves a role in which he is utterly unrecognizable. Remember his part in The Chronicles of Riddick? With the Snape-punk hair-do and the 40 pounds of armor? Plus he’s got a sexy voice. And when it comes down to it…Dredd is going to be all about an actor comfortable in armor with a sexy voice. DONE, MR. URBAN. DONE AND DONE.

Reaction to film?

Elena-

I have to eat my words on this one. Dredd was actually really enjoyable. Legitimately good, if you are down with retro sci-fi dystopian action, which I am.  I think the preview for this movie was terrible—it made it seem cliché but unaware of its triteness, whereas this was obviously a throwback movie.

What it reminded me of in tone and approach was Doomsday.  I loved that movie.  It was obviously derived from Mad Max, but it took pride in getting the small things right (since everyone knew the big idea going in).  Dredd pulled off a similar feat, treading familiar ground in a way that was pure existential enjoyment.  After seeing it I do think there was a connection to The Raid: Redemption…as with Hunger Games and Battle Royale, there was just one scene too many that was staged the same way for me to think this was convergent creativity.  But Dredd could have done much worse for inspiration—for example, the original Judge Dredd movie.

So what did this movie do especially right?

First, I loved the slow motion scenes.  I expected them to be kind of lame (I mean, “slow-motion lame” is not a saying for nothing), but instead they were a visual treat.  I did not see the movie in 3D, so I can’t speak to how the scenes of water or shattering glass looked through the glasses, but I thought they were quite beautiful in digital 2D. I have not seen very much digitally enhanced slow motion like this, with such a focus on the small things.  Those scenes were really quite fantastic.

Another bonus was that they left Dredd an inscrutable badass (Badass Alert!) and let the rookie be the character you sympathized with and got a backstory on.  The truth is, whatever drove Dredd to become what he is will diminish him as a character.  Does anyone in the universe think Vader is more of a badass now that we know his story?  Fuck no.  Dredd is the same kind of figure.  If you know the human emotion or loss or anguish that drove him to become the best and most honorable judge in the mega-city, he will seem kind of pathetic for not being able to get over it and move on with his life.

I enjoyed Lena Headey in the role of head gangster bitch in charge.  If I had seen her in this before starting GOT I might have been less skeptical of her as Cersei.

I liked the ending.  It was not what I expected—minor spoiler, I expected a huge fight the way martial arts movies build up to, and the final conflict was not that—but it was a satisfying climax.

I really don’t have a lot of complaints about the movie.  I’m sure I could find plot holes, but I walked out disinclined to dwell on them.  Judge Joe Dredd took me out and showed me a good time and never pretended like he was going to be more than a quick and dirty fling.  There’s a time and place for that kind of film, and this was mine.

Rachel-

“MOMMY I WANNA BE A JUDGE JUST LIKE DREDD!” I screamed the moment the film was over. And then went home to practice my frowney-face.  What do ya think?

For swears. That flick was awesome! And yes, it was a straight up action movie. For those of you unfamiliar with the comic, don’t worry. You will not be required to know any of the story-line or characters. All you need to know is what you are presented with, and you will enjoy yourselves. It’s a hyper-violent, live-action video game of a movie. It’s funny in parts but not silly. I defy you to watch it and not think Dredd is the coolest dude in the universe and to wish for a sequel so you can get to know him better. It’s the perfect adaptation. It totally stands on its own, it’s true to the feel and characterizations of the comic for fans, and it allows for the adaptation of more complicated storylines should the movie be a hit.

For a Dredd fan the movie is pretty perfect. It was SOOO Judge Dredd! It wasn’t a direct adaptation of any Dredd story-line I know of. It was more like “Here’s a day in the life of Judge Dredd.” Perhaps a direct adaptation of the CHARACTER of Dredd. Someone on Twitter said that they liked Dredd more than The Dark Knight Rises, and I think the reason for that is that Dredd felt like the character from the comic book, while TDKR didn’t really feel like Batman. Not really. I’ve read that the original scripts were populated with all the robots and villains from the comic but that they ended up being a bit surreal and hard to introduce to a new audience quickly. This approach is smart. Most of the people I know have no idea who Judge Dredd is and establishing this character, who he is when he isn’t in some dramatic story arc, is the best way to start what I assume the studio hopes will be a franchise. Reviews are good for the film, though the box office gross was disappointing in its opening weekend. The franchise idea may be killed, but at least we’re left with a film that stands on its own.

Dredd does a lot of showing instead of telling. What do Judges do in Mega-City One? They are police. Police that can arrest, sentence and carry out that sentence all in one go. They have rules. They have standards of procedure. They even go through training to find out if they have what it takes to be a Judge. This may be post-apocalypse, but by God order will be restored via the Law. This is where they introduce Judge Anderson (a character from the comics) as a Rookie who is shadowing Dredd for the day in a field test to see if she can rise above her substandard test scores. Off they go to a mega block 200-storey complex. A buildng so large residents can live and work inside of it for their entire lives. The particular mega block they are called to has been taken over by a gang run by a woman named Ma-ma who is flooding Mega-City One with a unique drug called slo-mo. Their drug is in high demand, so Ma-ma and her gang have a lot of fire power. Once Dredd assesses the situation, he decides to go get Ma-ma for sentencing, and our movie commences.

The plot is pretty simple, and you won’t see Dredd go through any revelations about himself or what it means to be a Judge. That’s the Rookie’s job. In fact in an interview in Empire writer Alex Garland talks about how slowly the character of Dredd changes over time that he evolves “in the way that a glacier moves: you look a year later and something actually has shifted! I tried to be true to that.” Even the structure of the film itself reflects the unyielding, unbreakable march of Judge Dredd. The action comes fast and hard.

There ARE a few low spots in the film. I was hoping Judge Anderson’s psychic abilities would be integral to the plot (considering the character eventually heads up her own title), but I see that the writers wanted to keep the focus on Dredd. He is the hero of this story. Lena Heady, who I thought would be fantastic as the psychopath drug lord Ma-ma, was actually a letdown. I do not find her to be a particularly subtle actress, and Heady chose to play Ma-ma quietly, to let her malice exist in her silence and slow movements—but she just kind of came off as sleepy.

Elena-

I disagree…I thought she came off as drugged-out and yet still malicious enough to slaughter people.  None of her henchmen seemed like they were using, so the fact that she was became a testament to her badassery and why she was running the gangs and the building.

Rachel-

The design for the film is pretty great. They made the Judge Uniform cool but didn’t adhere so slavishly to the comic designs as to appear…well…hilarious (see the Stallone version if you don’t believe me). The weapons were cool, the helmet was plausible, and the ghetto interiors of the mega blocks were claustrophobic. Dredd was shot in Cape Town, South Africa, and it actually LOOKS hot and sweaty even in the interiors.

Besides the faithful adaptation of character and intent, Dredd is amazingly violent, but the violence is so over the top that it’s not disturbing. The script plays with the idea of justice, it’s not totally mindless, but the over the top violence was more action movie and less horrifying shit I never want to see again. Just the way I like it.

The perfect kind of action blockbuster to close out the summer. I hope you like it too. Embrace the LAW!

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