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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
Early last fall, I had the intention of catching Dredd in 3D at the local theater. The only problem is that by the time I was ready to head out and see it, Dredd had already disappeared from theaters. It was a total box office failure, and seemed to be met with disinterest from American audiences (though critics praised the film, and it holds fresh at 77% on Rotten Tomatoes). Even after Dredd’s release onto home video, I still somehow just never found the time to check it out. I had heard from a few friends that it was a decent but not spectacular film, and when I finally watched it just today, I can totally see what they mean by that. In short, I liked Dredd, but I didn’t love it.
The plot to Dredd is incredibly simple. In post-apocalyptic America, there exists a city known as Mega-City One, which encompasses a tract of land from Boston to Washington, D.C. A glut of crime necessitates the creation of the Judges, highly trained police officers granted the ability to judge criminals on the spot, essentially excising the need for a complicated court process. Judge Dredd (an incredibly solid Karl Urban), along with rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby, who I also enjoyed), are tasked with investigating a triple homicide in a gang-controlled mega-sized apartment complex. The Ma-Ma gang, led by the titular Ma-Ma (short for Madeline Madrigal, played by an ineffective Lena Headey), wants the Judges dead before they discover the vast drug operations hidden within the complex. The Judges must now survive, as well as take out the gang members and their operation.
The plot of the film is highly reminiscent of a video game, which many would cite as a criticism of the film. I, however, think it serves the film incredibly well, basically forcing things to stay simple. One of the aspects that works about Dredd is that it is not a complicated film at all. Dialogue is sparse, especially from Judge Dredd himself, and is essentially relegated to plot details and character building (of which there is little in Dredd … again, this is not necessarily a bad thing). The movie is incredibly economical in what it attempts to do. The attempts aren’t always successful unfortunately. A double-cross/bounty portion of the film, which takes up a significant part of the last third of the film, doesn’t quite work, for example. But what does work is effective and enjoyable.
The film is flawed, however. Director Pete Travis (Vantage Point, Endgame) is a solid director, but the film lacks overall flair. One of the big parts of the film involves Slo-Mo, a drug which makes the user feel like time is slowing down. These scenes are somewhat cheap-looking (basically the same effect is used in Limitless to great effect) and also copious. The third time the director returned to a Slo-Mo style, I was already over it. I tried my best to appreciate the set design and visual aesthetics of the film as well, but Dredd is incredibly cheap-looking. In some scenes, it is hard to not notice just how cheap the film looks. I normally wouldn’t mind this in a film like Dredd, but because the film is essentially set in one setting for the duration of the film, it is just too hard to not be noticeable.
Despite the criticisms I have of Dredd, I did enjoy the film. It is a visceral thrill-ride with a pretty enormous body count and has absolutely zero pretensions about what it is. I really appreciate director Pete Travis and screenwriter Alex Garland’s efforts to bring justice to such an iconic, if somewhat underground, comic figure. The creative team behind Dredd largely succeeds. Special mention must be made of Karl Urban, who gives his all to bring Judge Dredd to life as well. I enjoyed Dredd and found a lot to like, but I can totally see why this film was so unloved in its original theatrical run. Check it out, but don’t expect a great cinematic experience. Enjoy Dredd for what it is – an unpretentious, thoroughly bloody affair.