Dredd is easily the most underrated genre movie produced in recent years. A visually stunning and faithful adaptation of the ultra-violent comic book series.
Far in the future America is a irradiated wasteland, the countries entire populous is now crammed and choking inside concrete jungles. Huge cities, principally Mega City One, are rife with crime and poverty and the only force holding the chaos at bay are Judges; a department of law enforcers with the powers to arrest, convict, sentence and execute criminals as seen fit.
Judge Dredd is one of the most merciless Judges, and we follow his journey into one of the city’s Mega Blocks to evaluate a rookie Judge. But little does he know that the block is under total control of a violent gang.
A hard-R in America and an 18 rating from the BBFC might seem surprising; Dredd being an adaptation of the popular British 2000AD comics, which saw popularity in the very early nineties. But the film is a reaction to having the character depicted once before, in 1995, by Sylvester Stallone… a film universally condemned, tonally all over the place, dated effects and over-acted. And Rob Schneider. Just, why? 2000AD comics was considered one of the most violent and gory series of graphic novel published at the time. Sidekicks played by comedians are not allowed!
Dredd sees the Judge recast with Karl Urban (Star Trek, TV’s Almost Human) and while he doesn’t have the inhuman jawline of Stallone, he does deliver a great stony and grim performance of the mysterious, violent Judge. He is paired with Olivia Thirlby’s Judge Anderson, a psychic who needs to prove herself. This is perhaps the best plot device this film commits to; by making Anderson the audience surrogate into this world, it keeps Dredd secure as an inhuman bad-ass.
On the opposite side, the gang leader trying to murder Judges intruding on her Mega Block, is called Ma-Ma (shorthand for Madeline Madrigal) played by Game of Thrones superstar Lena Headey. Imagine Cercei as a junkie and you are halfway there. She has great presence as a spider in the center of her web.
But the film’s greatest strengths, since the plot and characters are relatively simple, are its cinematography, soundtrack, violence and actually… its 3D. The film is dedicated to a grungy, gory and visceral visual experience, capturing what the comics were like in the late eighties, vivid use of colours and intense shadows bathing the grime encrusted urban setting. The soundtrack is thumping bass and awesome synth that directors like Nicolas Winding Refn are praised for today. The 3D, which I saw in the cinema, was incredible and used very sparingly; almost exclusively for the film’s fictional drug SLO-MO. It really gives an impression of time slowing down, and the 3D intensifies the sensation and makes great dissonance with the rest of the film.
It is an absolute sin that this film has not received a sequel; it source has a rich history and the film only scraps the surface of the possibilities. Karl Urban has actively fought to get studios involved, but to no success, similarly with multiple petitions to start the project. It remains a meme over the internet when another film gets an unnecessary sequel: Dredd Disapproves.
It is an ultra-violent and gory action experience. Bullets fly, bodies burn, bullets punch through faces and bodies while captured in super slow motion. The visual flare that captures it is unrivaled. He is the law.
Additional Marshmallows: I deliberately haven’t mentioned The Raid yet, but it is very similar in setting (but not in character or style, both are unique) to clarify, Dredd was already written and in production before The Raid, so it certainly did not rip off anyone. Rumour has it that the Dredd script was leaked, and The Raid was the result. That is a rumour, however!
Which is better, you ask?
Sigh. Dredd is the more visually stimulating picture, and is more immersive with the characters, I love its look and sound (plus it feels like a good adaptation!) while The Raid has some of the best martial arts and grisly eastern violence I’ve seen in a while (and is a great unique film, despite being a potential rip-off)
So, they are both equally good but for different reasons, but I would go with Dredd.