Directed by: Pete Travis || Produced by: Alex Garland, Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich
Screenplay by: Alex Garland || Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Wood Harris, Lena Headey, Domhnall Gleeson
Music by: Paul Leonard-Morgan || Cinematography by: Anthony Dod Mantle || Edited by: Mark Eckersley || Country: United Kingdom, South Africa || Language: English
Running Time: 95 minutes
Remakes are all the marketing craze nowadays in Hollywood (not to mention Bollywood), and the recent decade’s surge in recycled, rebooted, and re-imagined properties Stateside has irked a lot of fans. Classic 1980s and 1990s properties in particular are being reproduced and shoved down audiences’ throats with extreme prejudice (e.g. Robocop , Total Recall ), most of which are vastly inferior to their original titles, but some buck the trend with shocking impact as well; remember that Mad Max movie that came out a few weeks ago?
Further adding to this remake-craze irony is how one of the better ones, 2012’s Dredd re-imagining of the original 2000 A.D. comic character, is also one of the biggest remake flops. While Dredd’s R-rated, ultraviolent niche reboot lacked the massive budgets and mass-market commercialism of most previous rebooted properties, financially it was still a failure.
It’s a shame, because despite a few non-insignificant ruff edges here and there, this new cinematic take on the classic Judge Dredd is a fine film. While it leans too much on its 3D distribution and effects that nobody in their right mind cares about, its unabashed extreme violence and gore and refreshingly familiar premise paired with simple yet effective characters equal a solid action-film.
One thing action-fans will notice right away is how this film adopts the classic Die Hard (1988) “trapped in a building (or fill in the blank)”-premise. There’s a reason why so many good to great action films keep returning to this geographically limited setup — it allows for maximum tension in a relatable, realistic environment that places believable (and cost-effective) emphasis on maximum violence. It is videogame-like in a way, and I mean that as a positive thing.
Additionally, numerous aspects of Dredd’s visual style, ultraviolence, and plot points (the drug lord antagonist, the drug lab fight-sequence, the villain calling on all violent criminals in the vicinity to take out our heroes via intercom) recall The Raid’s (2011) skeleton-plot almost beat for beat. I found this highly amusing given (1) how well Dredd pulls off this repetitive scenario, and (2) recognizing derivative genre-formula is something I get a kick out of.
As for the rest of the film’s genre-basics, Dredd nails almost every trope it needs to: The action is violent, well paced, and deliberate; our main characters are simple and straightforward, capable of being badass yet vulnerable, the soundtrack is catchy and memorable, and we even get realistic yet significant character development. Other than the film’s signature style, setting, and violence, the best and most consistent part of Dredd are its two co-leads, the titular Judge played by Karl Urban, and his rookie sidekick, Anderson, played by Olivia Thirlby. Urban pulls off the classic character perfectly; he plays his role completely straight, he’s gruff and tough as nails, he has good one-liners and deapan humor, and he never takes his helmet off. Likewise, Thirlby is the perfect emotional counterpart to Urban, arriving on the scene wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, strongly humane and helmet-less, and learns from Dredd’s toughness and battle-savvy while maintaining her own identity over the course of the story. These actors nailed everything.
Unfortunately, Alex Garland’s screenwriting is shakier on the antagonists’ side. Lena Headey’s Ma-Ma gangster is weak, silly, and an altogether disposable villain, while Wood Harris’ (also known as Avon Barksdale from The Wire [2002-2008]) criminal henchman isn’t much better.
There are also some dumb sequences like the utterly stupid CGI-minigun shootout halfway through the film and the numerous slow-motion shots of people being thrown from high-rises. Also, I would’ve preferred a little more variety and versatility in the action-sequences’ camera movements; many of the shootouts, while visceral and vicious, feel too slow and plodding at times. Most of the hand-to-hand combat could’ve used better choreography as well. Don’t get me wrong, this film has solid action (and I appreciate the no-holds-barred R-rating, believe me), I just feel it could have transcended much further with a little bit more effort and cinematic creativity. Maybe they wasted too much money on the CGI establishing shots…
At the end of the day, though, Dredd (2012) remains one of the few new millennium remakes that not only stands on its own, but definitively outclasses its previous film incarnation. With strong characters, a smart setting, and wonderfully bloody carnage, Urban does not need to shout, “I AM THE LAAAUUUWW!” He only needs to mutter it softly. And very, very seriously. This film’s a pass.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Dredd features badass violence supported by straightforward, worthy characters in a classic setting. Urban and Thirlby were cast perfectly and have great chemistry. The soundtrack is also great.
— However… Headey and her cronies are forgettable. Certain action sequences could’ve been tightened up or executed with greater variety. The minigun setpiece is dumb.
? Is Karl Urban’s star on the rise? I think so.