Directed by Pete Travis
Distributed by Lionsgate
This writer can freely admit that he once enjoyed (still enjoys) Judge Dredd, the campy 90s action flick based on a British comic book and starring Sylvester Stallone and Deuce Bigalow. The film looks gorgeous, has the type of massive sets that would simply be rendered in CG these days, boasts some kickass action, and has a fairly decent set of performances in it throughout from Stallone, Max Von Sydow, and a scenery-inhaling Armand Assante. Hell, you clear up some of the bad dialogue and shitty one-liners, then flat-out replace that black hole of comedy Rob Schneider with, say, a mid-90s era Tim Roth, and you have yourself a minor action classic. As it is, though, Judge Dredd stands as a deeply flawed but still quite interesting action flick with more brains and heart than it probably needs.
Seventeen years later, and we now have Dredd, another adaptation of the classic comic with a far more grounded, straight-faced tone than its predecessor. If Judge Dredd was a bit Schumacher, then this new Dredd attempts to go full Nolan on us. And though Dredd is certainly a better and more consistent film than the Stallone vehicle, it sadly forgoes the source comic’s subversive humor and the original film’s stance on the dodgy nature of our hero’s morality. While the Stallone flick at least questioned the fascist nature of the Judges’ legal system, this new film merely presents a terrible world and the people tasked with keeping it in order, without shining a light on the moral ambiguity of the “Judge, Jury, Executioner” side of the protagonist’s role in his city.
Still, that aside, Dredd manages to be a gritty, spare action flick with a nifty premise – one which will seem quite familiar to fans of a recent action classic (more on that in a moment).
In the future, the world has been devastated by war, leaving only certain chunks of land safe enough to be inhabited. These massive, sprawling metropolises – dubbed “Mega-Cities” – are rife with crimes of all sorts. Life in cheap in these big cities, with thousands upon thousands of heinous crimes reported each day (and only around 6% of them able to be dealt with). To combat these crimes, the Mega-Cities have the Judges – well-armed, well-trained individuals able to act as “Judge, Jury, and Executioner” while out on patrol.
Within Mega-City One, one such Judge is well-known and feared by the criminal lot: Dredd (Urban), a sour-faced law machine who is utterly unshakable in his faith in the legal system and unmatched in his abilities to mete out justice as he sees fit. As the film begins, Dredd is tasked with taking a rookie under his wing for evaluation. This rookie, a psychic named Anderson (Thirlby), accompanies Dredd to Peach Trees, one of the Mega-Blocks in Mega City One. Once there, the Judges discover that Peach Trees is the manufacturing base for Slo-Mo, a new drug taking the streets by storm. Slo-Mo pusher and criminal kingpin Ma-Ma Madrigal (Heady) orders the two to be executed after sealing the building shut, leaving our heroes to fight a building’s worth of henchman before taking on Ma-Ma and her clan on the top floor.
So! Cops stuck in a building, forced to fight a whole host of baddies floor by floor as they make their way to the big boss perched at the top level. Sound vaguely familiar, that plot? Then that means at some point within the last year you must have seen The Raid: Redemption, which features much the same plot minus the futuristic sci-fi attributes. Still, even though Dredd reached theatres last, it went into production well before The Raid, so it’s up to you to determine whether or not the similarities between the two projects are coincidence or some manner of thievery.
All that and my comic-geek nitpicking aside, Dredd is a fantastic film – a down and dirty, action-packed bunch of badassery that kept this genre fan smiling from ear to ear throughout. The performances are all solid, the gorgeously-grimy photography is wonderful, and screenwriter Alex Garland (writer of 28 Days Later and the underrated Sunshine) knows how to pen a kick-ass action tale that doesn’t have to sacrifice its brains in order to be brawny. Credit must also go to director Pete Travis (curiously absent from most of the film’s marketing and the disc’s many docs) for keeping the tension high throughout the film’s duration. Add to all of this a top-notch musical score by Paul Leonard-Morgan, and what remains is a damned fine flick that really should have done better at the box office.
Lionsgate rolls out Dredd to disc with a brilliant transfer, full of gritty detail and accurate, grimy colors which perfectly represent the film’s look in theaters. The DTS-HD 7.1 track is superb and easily reference quality. It helps create a fully immersive experience, then rattles you with the rampant and eerily realistic gunfire and explosions. Just try to get through the movie without the audio unnerving you.
The bonus features section is decent enough, though not as exhaustive as it may look at first glance. We have: Mega-City Masters, a fifteen-minute featurette on Judge Dredd’s comic book origins in 2000 AD; Day of Chaos, a fifteen-minute look at the film’s world-building, visual effects, and kick-ass slow-motion photography; a brief two-minute featurette featuring creator John Wagner and actor Karl Urban; Dredd’s Gear, a two-and-a-half-minute glimpse at the film’s riot gear and weaponry; The 3rd Dimension, which delves into the film’s 3D photography; Welcome to Peach Trees, which explores the idea of the film’s “Mega Blocks”, specifically the one featured prominently in the film; and a brief (and ultimately unsatisfying) motion comic prequel to the film, focusing on the origin of the villainous Ma-Ma. So, two fifteen-minute docs and a handful of two-minute featurettes. Toss in a theatrical trailer, and you have yourself a decent, if not overly impressive, package.
While the comic book geek in me still yearns for a perfect cinematic representation of Judge Joseph Dredd, this new incarnation will do nicely until the next reboot rides along. Until then, whether you’re a fan of the comic or simply appreciative of badass sci-fi/action flicks, be sure to give Dredd a look.
- “Mega-City Masters”: 35 Years of Judge Dredd” featurette
- “Day of Chaos: The Visual Effects of Dredd 3D” featurette
- “Dredd” featurette
- “Dredd’s Gear” featurette
- “The 3rd Dimension” featurette
- “Welcome to Peach Trees” featurette
- Dredd Motion Comic Prequel
4 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5