Reviews by Jonathan: Judge Dredd

Judge Dredd is a comic series I’ve always wanted to read more of, but have never really gotten around to.While I’ve not read enough to call myself anything more than a casual fan at best, what I have read, is certainly great stuff, and well worth reading. My  main introduction to Judge Dredd was unfortunately, through the 1995 Stallone vehicle. From what I’ve read and as many fans will testify, it is a complete failure as an adaptation. At the time I saw it, I hadn’t read any of the comics and hadn’t even heard of the character, and with that context, it was a relatively harmless and fun 90’s action flick. Even now, after somewhat familiarizing myself with the character, it’s still got a bit of charm to it, but there’s no denying its great disjustice to the character. Fans deserve a lot better.

Enter Dredd: if ever there was anything that made me want to become a hardcore fan of the comics, it’s this film. Now the first thing to note, and something I hear a lot of people complain about, is that this is NOT remake of the Stallone movie. This is a true adaptation of the series, that not only does justice for the fans, but is an awesome action flick for everyone else. For those unfamiliar, the Judge Dredd series takes place in a future where most of earth is a irradiated wasteland. So all surviving people live in what are known as mega-cities; giant cities that house hundreds of millions of people. Enter the Judges, who are a special form of law enforcement, made when the normal law system completely collapsed. Judges have the ability to be judge, jury, and executioner for criminals. Judge Dredd is the best of the best, He is cold, ruthless, and efficient. He sees everything in black and white; either you’re a criminal, or you’re not. Dredd illustrates this perfectly, showing both how cold and detached he is, while also showing how he really does play by the rules. The movie also does something refreshing with the comic book movie that I really found cool. While most comic movies seem to think they have to be grand and epic, and huge, and full of worldbuilding in the biggest sense possible. Dredd does world building in the most basic, but effective way possible: by showing a life in the day of Judge Dredd.

Dredd’s premise is simple. Stick Judge Dredd in a building with hundreds of criminals, give him a rookie side-kick, lock the doors, and have him fight his way out. There is of course a bit more to it than that, there’s also a great villian, and some subtle character development here and there. But the basic set-up is  that it’s basically a mixture of Die Hard and The Raid: Redemption, but with Judge Dredd as the main character. The film takes this simple premise however, and forms it into something incredible. The most important thing in a film like this is its pacing. If it’s not firing on all cylinders at all time and constantly moving, then it’s going to drag, and the premises’ simple layout is going to show. Thankfully, Dredd never slows down for a second; it’s a constant barrage of bullets, blood, and brain matter.

To sell Dredd on just its action and violence alone would still be doing it a great disservice. What really makes Dredd stand towards the top of this year’s best list, is just how clever the writing is. As I said, Dredd is pretty much non-stop action from beginning to end, but along the way the film is brought above thanks to one character. Cassandra Anderson is a rookie Judge, who was mutated by radiation. The mutation gave her psychic abilities, which the Hall of Justice decides might be useful for them, so they give her to Dredd to see just how useful she can be on a day in a Judges’ position. Anderson brings this film above being just a really really cool action movie, because while she could have easily been just a generic rookie who constantly gets saved by Dredd, she really holds her own, and gets the biggest yet subtle character arc in the film. Not to mention she is given probably the best scene in the film, which I won’t dare spoil here. Don’t get me wrong, Dredd is still the core of the film, and is the biggest reason the movie is great, Anderson is more the bonus that makes it rise just that much higher.

Dredd’s cast is probably the most important part of the film, because if they didn’t do Judge Dredd justice, the movie would fall flat on its face. Thankfully, they chose one of the most underrated actors working today to play the legendary character, Karl Urban. Urban keeps the character’s personality totally in check, but also gives him just a hint of loveability and humanity that make you want to see him win. It’s really hard to explain what makes his portrayal work so perfectly, but trust me it does. Olivia Thirlby plays Cassandra Anderson, and I said before, she does a great job. Lena Headey tops off the main cast as the slightly terrifying villian of the film, Ma-Ma. Why she was such a great villian is still perplexing me, because she’s pretty understated. She doesn’t really do anything that screams “Holy crap, Holy crap, this is an amazing villian.” Her character’s success is more due to glimpses we see, and what we’re told. Her presence is more what sells it, and Headey’s performance drives it all home.

On the technical side, I have nothing but praise. The film’s down and dirty grittiness is presented perfectly, you really believe that the world is completely screwed. The effects for the Slo-Mo are gorgeous, and I think it’s cool how they found a way to make slow-motion a legitimate plot point. The 3D is possibly the best ever, it’s absolutely gorgeous and really does add to the film. The music is amazing; it’s driving and adrenaline pumping, and helped to give the film a bit of an old school John Carpenter feel. And as I said, the pacing is flawless.

Overall, Dredd is one of my favorite films of the year. For what it is, it’s pretty much flawless from beginning to end, and even goes on to try to be a little more than it needs to be, and succeeds. It’s a must see film, and one of the few worth seeing in 3D.

Now, here’s something I didn’t want to have to do, but feel obligated to. It’s usually bad form to mention Box Office in a review, but when a great movie is failing, I need to do something. And yes Dredd is failing at the box office….hard. The reason this is so tragic to me is that it is clear that the filmmakers put their heart and soul into making an adaptation that does the series justice, and is the best movie they could make. When effort and caring is met with an abysmal box office, it’s always a sad day for film. So see Dredd, see it twice, see it as many times as you can, tell your friends to see it, tell your friends to tell their friends to see it. Word of mouth saves films like these, and this film really deserves to be at least a modest success. I know it’s too late at this point and me telling a small number of people to see a movie isn’t going to change much, but every ticket counts, so go see Dredd!

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