Better Dredd Than Dead
Holy hell, how long’s it been since I posted something on here? Like, eight years? Man, that is a lot of years.
What follows is a review of Dredd
It’s a long one, because I am a terrible, terrible, terrible editor.
TL;DR Rating – I loved it.
Dredd is a movie with a lot of baggage and a lot going against it. First and foremost is the Stallone vehicle where Rob Schneider was the wacky comic relief; the costumes were designed by Versace, and the motorcycles all flew, except when they didn’t, because we needed jokes even when Schneider wasn’t around.
The first one, in it’s favor, had staggering set design. The city was futuristic and somewhat alien, but still gritty and lived-in, making for a very imposing and imaginative world-to-come.
Also, if different ideas had prevailed Stallone would not have been a bad choice for Dredd. He certainly has the jawline, and he can do menacing without yelling and chewing scenery unlike the movie’s awful villain, Armand Assante.
If Stallone were able to keep his voice level, focused, with a little bit of a growl, while leaving the helmet on, you would have had a decent foundation on which to build Mega-City One and the Cursed Earth.
But cooler heads didn’t prevail, and this was right before Stallone was cast down to toil in the direct-to-video trenches until redeemed by Rocky Balboa and Rambo where he found his humility again, so a helmeted Dredd lasted maybe one scene.
The second thing going against it, at least here in the States, is no one really knows what Dredd is. He’s from a comic book but he’s for damn sure not a superhero, and this was before Blade made the world safe for R-rated genre movies, again, and way before X-Men and Batman Begins made talking to the comic book professionals and listening to the fans a vital thing. There wasn’t an easy ‘in’ to the character of Judge Dredd, even as an action movie because he, in the beginning, functioned as a parody of action movies, American values, and government and crime run amok.
I straight-up loved this movie. I can’t recommend it enough. I would have watched it again that second if they started it right back up.
First off, let’s deal with the elephant in the room, the Raid: Redemption and Dredd have the same plot. Having said that, Dredd did start and finish before the Raid, but you know what, they both make it work. They both make it their own. Just, you know, don’t do a double feature, lest you suffer from against-the-world fatigue.
This is a beautifully shot movie. It’s a grim, used-up world, full of people surviving by straddling the line between clinging to any idea of civilization and embracing desperation as an ethos, and it’s gorgeous.
Pete Travis can frame a shot, friends. The colors are great. He understands the use of shadows to create tension in a scene and not hide actor deficiencies in action moments. Actually, now that I think about there is no shakey cam at all. How about that? A director on an action movie that didn’t cost hundreds of millions of dollars who understands that moments of action can also help tell a story?
I’ll be damned.
I rarely, if ever, have say this, but I actually wish I had seen this in 3D. It looks that good and the cinematography is that precise and confident that I feel 3D would have actually added to this movie.
Ugh, gross. I feel gross having typed that. Sick.
Lena Headey is officially the First Lady of Genre movies. God knows Milla Jovovich tried, but Lena has not only starred in a bunch of geek fare but she excelled in them, and she brings her considerable game to Dredd. The movie is a lean, mean beast without a lot of padding, and unfortunately Headey suffers the most, but makes great use of the little time she’s given. Her character Ma-Ma (maw-maw) is an exceptionally scary human being. The world in Dredd is, as I’ve mentioned, an unkind place and Ma-Ma thrives there. She’s not a screaming villain, ranting at cowed minions. She knows that she’ll never have to yell, because everyone will always listen. She’s cruel, not vicious. Her brutality is calculated. She’s mean, because that’s the game. She’s hard, because if she’s ever soft, it’s more blood and more fighting down the line. Headey does a great job playing the part. Ma-Ma has a quiet confidence who treats murder and torture as a part of her business.
Olivia Thirlby is a rookie judge; someone who should be a washout, but is close enough to a pass with a mutation making her a very powerful psychic that might put her over. She’s the only character who actually goes on a journey, changing at the end in response to Mega-City One as viewed by Dredd and Ma-Ma. She’s less our “in” to the world, but more of an example of what it takes to survive and the strength of character it takes to keep parts of yourself unchanged. It’s a nice balance between a rookie having the worst first day, ever, but not being helpless, and learning to handle herself but not losing the character we met at the beginning of the story.
Wood Harris, aka Avon Barksdale from the Wire, plays Kay, Ma-Ma’s pet drug dealer. He’s not given a lot to do besides give us background info on how the Ma-Ma Clan operates and sets up the third act, but that’s really it. He does get to be a part of Thirlby’s Anderson showing the full extent of her powers.
Karl Urban, who is not an ugly man, left the helmet on for the entire movie, not counting an early shot where his face isn’t visible, and far more than being faithful to the comic, the covered face is fitting for an executioner. Dredd’s barely a person. He’s the personification of control, pushed so far to the wall that it’s come back as fascism. He’s a being serving an ideal and if you fall on the other side of the black and white line, God help you. There’s been a lot of comments about Urban using a Bale-esque Batman voice, but that’s only due to a lack of imagination and sense of history on the part of critics. It’s less Christian and more Clint. Urban’s Dredd is a barely speaking gunfighter in the tradition of Eastwood’s greatest and most iconic anti-heroes. Urban does most of his acting through his jaw muscles and his shoulders and it’s subtle and effective.
The reason the entire movie works is not just due to the actors, or the action scenes, or the cinematography, but because of the setting. As is tradition, when speaking about any comic book movie one must invoke Batman, so here we go.
Two of the most influential creators to work on Bats are Christopher Nolan and Grant Morrison, and they both agreed that Gotham City was the most important thing to get right to create a Batman people could get behind, but for very different reasons.
Morrison, who loves to delve into and work with symbolism, totems, and the distillations of types and tropes feels that humanity, at least in the DC Universe, needs Batman. He’s a symbol of fear, converted to the side of righteousness. A man among gods, who has pushed himself into the realm of something else. To Morrison, Gotham must be a machine designed to produce Batman, because he is, on a nearly spiritual level, needed by humanity. He protects us. He inspires us. There must always be a Batman.
Nolan created a Gotham where only Batman could make a difference. An either impotent or corrupt police force, criminals disdainfully flaunting the law, and judges getting handjobs from underage prostitutes at mafia restaurants, all make for a world where Batman is the only answer. The only way to do good is to become an outlaw, and the only way to do that well is to do it like Batman.
Travis and Garland do a good job of making the Judges, and by extension, Dredd, the only possible answer to the trouble of Mega-City One. He’s a symbol that humanity is not entirely lost. If he doesn’t inspire people towards justice, then he herds them into submission. It’s back to the basic mechanics of survival, but one you can build upon, if not in Dredd’s lifetime, then later.
Is Dredd sociopath? Yes. Is he more executioner than officer of the peace? Yes. Is he the only way to attempt to bring some order to the focused chaos that permeates the future? Yes.
Dredd works because everything else is so broken.
This a solid mid-budget action movie. It’s not trying to change the world, and it certainly not going to; it just wants to tell it’s story with it’s characters.
I can’t wait to do a double feature with Dredd and Punisher: Warzone.
Posted on September 25, 2012, in Comics, Matt Loman, Movies, Pop Culture, Uncategorized and tagged action, Action movies, dredd, dredd 3d, dystopia, dystopian, future, I AM THE LAW, judge dredd, karl urban, lena headey, matt, Matt Loman, olivia thirlby, sci-fi. science fiction, scifi, THE LAW AM I, wasteland. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.