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-[Film Reviews]-, English Language Film Industries, United Kingdom & Irish Cinema

‘Dredd’ (2012): Stylish Fascism


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 [2014], Total Recall [2012]), 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?

dredd 2012

Beautiful deaths, methodical shootouts, and brutal executions fulfill Dredd’s aestheticization of violence.

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.


Judgement time…

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.

About The Celtic Predator

I love movies, music, video games, and big, scary creatures.


23 thoughts on “‘Dredd’ (2012): Stylish Fascism

  1. In the right studio hands this could have been a decent franchise. The Judge Dredd universe is full of material, but alas there was something the studios weren’t happy with. Maybe it was box office moolah. Sometimes they just don’t try hard enough.

    Posted by The Opening Sentence | June 4, 2015, 4:46 am
  2. Excellent review! I saw this one in an empty theatre (probably indicative of its overall box office haul), and I was impressed. It’s a shame a sequel looks highly unlikely. Karl Urban did a fine job as Dredd.

    Posted by garethrhodes | June 30, 2015, 3:06 pm
    • Thanks for the read and the praise! Honestly, I’d never even heard of this film until after it arrived on home video. I blame not only the studio’s over-dependence on 3D-distribution (numerous theatres were denied requests for standard versions despite demand) but the non-existent marketing campaign.

      Studios refuse to take chances on niche, hardcore films and wonder why they so often fail. Where’s the executive faith?

      Posted by The Celtic Predator | September 15, 2015, 5:47 pm
  3. ”Urban does not need to shout” – I have just watched the 1995 version to compare it with 2012. Stallone was really pitiful in that role with his funny tight pants…

    Dredd 2012 is probably the only cool non Marvel/DC superhero sci-fi we’ve got since Marvel/DC captured the world! And the only case when the re-launch is better than the original.

    I really loved it.

    Posted by Indie Sci-Fi 451 | June 23, 2017, 12:21 am
    • Stallone is great when put in the right role, but put in the wrong role, he’ll suck (like Samuel L. Jackson). Dark, gritty, and brooding is not his forte, at least outside of Rambo.

      I’m honestly not a big fan of mainstream comic book adaptations, with a few exceptions (e.g. Logan, TDK, Spider-Man 2002, 2004, Deadpool), because I like grounded action sequences and blood squibs galore. That being said, I’m all for studios exploring the weird, fucked up underbelly of graphic novels, e.g. Lobo, Spawn, Dredd, The Punisher.

      Violence and murdering people is heroic!

      Posted by The Celtic Predator | June 23, 2017, 12:59 am
      • Yep, you’re right. While I cannot say that the 1995 version was completely flawed (it had its moments), the problem there was with all actors because in one scene they played comedy, in another – thriller, and then – tragedy. I also have no idea how 1995 Dredd got R rating.

        You’re the only reviewer who didn’t really like the villain in this movie (neither did I). I found it strange that everybody praised Lena Headey. She did good acting, I just felt like the character itself was too flat and weak.

        As for Spawn – recently I collected the fuuuull list of all R rated superhero movies (http://www.imdb.com/list/ls069916116/), Spawn was on the list, I still have to watch it though.

        Which other sci-fi action movies can u reccomend that are not overly famous?

        Posted by Indie Sci-Fi 451 | June 23, 2017, 1:47 am
      • P. S. But Samuel L. Jackson is way better than Stallone, although I have huge equal respect for both of them.

        Posted by Indie Sci-Fi 451 | June 23, 2017, 1:49 am


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