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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Dredd

Karl Urban as Judge Dredd Olivia Thirlby as Judge Anderson Lena Headly as MaMa

Hearing about a second attempt to bring 2000 A.D.‘s Judge Dredd to the big screen had me facing apprehension. Certainly, the 1994 film version with Sylvester Stallone had soured me on the idea of a follow-up movie and provided endless fodder with ‘I am the law’ ringing in the recesses of my mind. Any real attempt to do the good judge justice would be met with that memory, and it would take more than just an adaptation: It would require nothing short of a miracle.

And that’s what happened.

Early on, Dredd  shows a darker, grimmer version of Mega-City One. In essence, it’s a mixture of The Raid: Redemption and Training Day, with Dredd overseeing the final assessment of a young judge named Anderson (played with doe-eyed innocence by Olivia Thirlby). On a routine bust in the massive Peach Trees Metroplex, Dredd runs afoul of the MaMa clan, led by MaMa (Lena Headey). Trapped inside 200 floors, Dredd and Anderson must survive and stop MaMa, whose production of a new drug called ‘Slo-Mo’ has positioned her at the top of the predator food-chain.

So yeah, it’s not Lincoln.

There is a lot to say about DreddAs an adaption, it’s not bad, it’s far better than other comic to movie adaptions, and it has something that makes it feel more visceral. Clearly, this is probably enhanced by Karl Urban’s gruff-voiced Dredd, who is only seen without his helmet once. Second, the decision to simply go ball’s out and not attempt to tell preachy stories (I’m looking at you Dark Knight Rises) is pretty damned refreshing. Dredd is not new ground, but it doesn’t try to be. It is a violent, unapologetic adaption that attempts to resolve that it is an action film of a type that is sorely not seen much. Dredd focuses not on the development between characters, instead focusing on the elements in which both characters rise to their levels. What works is that Dredd maintains a frenetic sense of purpose, and provides little doubt in which direction its going.

That single-minded simplicity of movie narrative is also the main problem with the film. While I appreciate the straightforward approach, Dredd didn’t provide anything new or groundbreaking. The movie pacing and story were atypical, character development underwhelming, and the stark bleakness of Megacity One and the entire nihilistic approach was hard sometimes to get past. There was a lot of moments in the movie where you just wanted to see a glimmer of something positive, which wasn’t necessarily involved in the destruction of the MaMa clan against the remorseless Dredd. At the same time, there were real moments where you saw the Dredd from the comics, and for a fan, that was well worth it.

THE GOOD:

  • A great adaption from the source material.
  • Karl Urban again shows he’s an action hero, and he handles Dredd perfectly, not removing the helmet throughout the movie.
  • Dark future science-fiction could really take a page from the development and design of Dredd.
  • I. Am. The Law.

THE BAD:

  • There is nothing new here, in so far as story. Dredd is pretty much a cliche of action films, and borrows heavily from similarly structured sci-fi action.
  • I love Lena Headey, but she needed more than what she got in this movie. MaMa really should have been built up more to be a real nemesis.
  • I expected violence, I appreciate it in Dredd, but you might not.

THE UGLY:

  • Dredd is what it is, and you either know what you’re getting into or not. As such, you will not be surprised by it.
  • Dredd misses some of the satire from the comic, as it is pretty straightforward action
  • Thugs are so generic, I don’t think I could tell you who they were.
  • No surprises.

Verdict:
I liked it, it was exactly what I thought it would be. I’d pay to see a sequel. Still better than The Dark Knight Rises

★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★

Written by in January of 2013. Last edited September 2014.

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Comments

  • Jeff - January 26th, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    I really, really loved Dredd. Actually, I think the only problem I agree with is the need for more Lena. Violence is a requirement, and too much satire might’ve pushed Dredd into the world of camp. Thanks for the review!