Once upon a time, the 90s happened. And man, was there a lot of shit floating around in the water then. Yes, amongst all the crappy offerings the cinema doled out between all the classics of the era was a comic-book adaptation entitled Judge Dredd. It starred everyone’s favorite muddle-mouth Slyvester Stallone and Diane Lane for whatever reason (probably it was in her contract with the studio) as two “Street Judges” in one of the last bastions of human civilization, dispensing justice wherever they went. Fans of the comic hated it. Critcs hated it. General audiences hated it, but laughed their asses off anyways. The film became a cult classic, but was always remembered for its huge financial loss by the studio, and the intellectual property was never touched again…
…that is until someone decided a reboot was in order. Yes, Dredd hit theaters not but a week ago, nearly 17 years after the original film’s debut, and almost 35 years after the comics first started publishing. Will it go the way of The Amazing Spiderman, and be a terrible, soulless reboot, or will it be a newer, better very of the original’s trainwreck? Let’s prepare to pass judgment on Dredd.
This film takes place in a post-nuclear-world-war world where humanity is forced to survive living in mega-cities, these super metropoli where apartment buildings have become their own little worlds, and crime is rampant across the city. It is in this world where judges, the collective enforcers and executioners of the law, come into play. While there’s too much crime to ever stop, the judges do their best to remedy any and all situations that occur within city limits. Enter Judge Dredd, aka the super cop, and our protagonist, who takes his job incredibly seriously. Just one look at the man explains his entire character better than I ever could with mere words.
Dredd is then assigned a new rookie to assess, a young cop named Anderson, who may have failed Judge school but can read minds. Dredd, of course, thinks she’s going to be terrible but takes her on assignment anyways because those are his orders. They decide to go to the Peach Trees complex, where a crime is taking place – three men have been skinned and thrown from the upper levels. The complex is run by Madeline Madrigal, also known as Ma-Ma, a ganster and drug lord who was once a prostitute.
The complex is produing a new, highly popular drug called “slo-mo” which makes the user feel like time is passing at an incredibly decreased rate, and what turns into a simple murder and drug bust becomes an all out war, as Anderson and Dredd get locked into the mega-structure and must fight against thugs, corrupt judges, and an entire drug cartel in order to see the light of day again.
Karl Urban as Dredd is fantastic, to say the very least. We never see his eyes, but he works his body and mouth so well, that we barely miss the rest of his face at all. He’s gruff, but without being overally unlikable or stereotypical. It’s clear that there’s a history behind that helmet, and it’s also clear you’re not going to pry it from him without a crowbar. He does the deep voice, but it flows naturally, and his stoic, by-the-book nature adds charm. If there’s ever a sequel, which doesn’t appear to be the case, they would need to be Urban back to play the role. Olivia Thirlby, who plays Anderson, was a good choice for the role as the mutant rookie. She has a very angelic, baby faced look with works as a great contrast while shes kicking ass and gunning down thugs.
Ma-Ma, played Lena Headey, is probably one of the most interesting characters, but also one we know the least about. She’s hard as steel, tougher than lead, and is constantly surrounded by phallic metaphors. Why? Who knows. I sure as Hell didn’t write the script. In the end, we never really get to know this character, and that’s a real flaw in the film. Yes, she is the mysterious drug lord, whose crazy and twisted and out for total dominance, but what’s the real reason? Who was she before? Why does she get into drugs? None of these are answered – the most explanation we get is that she’s power hungry.
It takes great advantage of the expansive set to flesh out the conflict to all out war. The movie takes place all within one building, but manages to never feel boring, and never become cramped and uncomfortable. The dingy green-gray-brown color scheme did remind me a lot of a video game, but it was also able to incorporate flashes of color to keep the eyes from growing tired. The costume designs are simple and functional, which is exactly how a movie about cops and drug dealers should be. The special effects are great, really pulling you into the world without ever looking cheap or fake…with one exception. Everytime a person uses slo-mo, we see how they percieve time…and it is a prespective filled to the brim with sparkles. Why? No clue…apparently someone on the development team was really into glitter.
Still, it’s not perfect. While there is an expansive feel and amazing cast, there are aspects missing that keep the movie from going from good to great. Some characters lack development – for example, why were the corrupt judges taking bribes all of a sudden? The movie also doesn’t have much of anything to say story-wise – it’s all about a big drug ring, and that’s it. There’s nothing wrong with having a film without a bigger idea behind it, but it seems to leave a void in this partcular one. And because we’re stuck in one building, we don’t get to see as much of the world that Dredd inhabits and what other types of crime there is, and how it manifests in other ways. There’s a lot more than could have been done in terms of adapting the story from the comics, but was left out, possibly due to time constraints or studio pressure to make an action heavy film.
While Dredd lacks the finess of say The Dark Knight, it is still a very well excuted, well written movie, and a vast improvement on the original. If you’re looking for a good action film, this would be perfect. If you’re looking for a drug cartel movie, this also fits the bill. Hey, if you’ve got nothing better to watch til Wreck-It-Ralph or Man With the Iron Fists come out, you might as well check this one out. You’ll laugh, you’ll be on edge, you’ll even wish you could watch it all over again.
Tune it next week when I desperately try to find another movie to watch, or at least talk about all the movies I need to see before 2013 rolls around.