Movie Review: Dredd
Rating: R (strong, bloody violence, language, drug use, some sexual content)
Length: 95 minutes
Release Date: September 21, 2012
Directed by: Pete Travis
Stars: 4 out of 5
In an age where sequels are king, it is rare for a movie based on a comic book character to get only a single film with no sequels. However, that is exactly what happened to "Judge Dredd," the 1995 action film starring Sylvester Stallone in the title role. That particular film strayed heavily from its comic book source material and, as a result, didn't resonate with audiences. Plans for a sequel were put on ice, never to be seen again.
Nearly 20 years later, "Dredd" isn't so much a sequel as a reboot of what was always meant to be a franchise. It adheres to the legend in the comic book much closer than "Judge Dredd" did, which is likely to make it a much bigger hit. It stars Karl Urban, of the famously-rebooted "Star Trek," in the title role of Judge Dredd, a big city cop in a futuristic dump of a world that is rife with crime and drugs.
In this futuristic society, the police are called Judges because they serve as judge, jury and even executioner of anyone who commits a crime. This gives them rights that can easily be corrupted, but not in the case of Judge Dredd. Sure, he takes no flak from anyone and is serious about his job, but he is also very fair. He is given the worst areas to patrol, as he is reliable and gets the job done by commanding respect. When judge-in-training Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) needs someone to watch her progress, there is nobody better than Dredd.
He is given an assignment to destroy the factory and crime gang behind a new drug on the street called Slo-Mo. The drug empire is run by Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), a horridly scarred former prostitute who lives in the Peach Trees building that houses over 200 apartments. Dredd and Anderson enter the building, only to find it trapped. Ma-Ma orders their deaths, and they have to find a way out of the claustrophobic building. Chaos and lots of gunfire ensue as the pair team up to deliver justice to the hardened criminals trying to kill them.
There are a few details here that were obviously done for the sake of ardent fans of the comic books. The weaponry, particularly the guns used by the judges, their lawgivers, is painstakingly recreated onscreen, which should delight fans. Urban never once takes off his helmet, again in line with the source material. This is one of the biggest problems that the comic book fans had with Stallone's film, in which Dredd took off his helmet. This may seem like a minor quibble to those who have never read the comic books, but for hardcore fans, it is a big deal.
It turns out Urban doesn't need to take off his helmet to fully express himself as the title character. With a purse of the lips or sneer, he shows a huge range of reactions and coolly hands out justice to the criminal inhabitants of Peach Trees. He turns in a fantastic performance that is not hindered in the slightest by the fact that three-quarters of his face is obscured by a mask. Thirlby manages to match his performance as the gutsy but still wet-behind-the-ears Anderson.
Headey also does an outstanding job as Ma-Ma, imbuing her with a ruthless cunning that is so good that it is almost repulsive to anyone with a conscience. Her actions and commands are in stark contrast to her voice, which is soft and kitten-like. When she gives an order to kill, it comes from a voice so soft that it would be soothing if you did not know the meaning of the words.
The film is set up so that there can easily be a sequel if the box-office receipts warrant it. Given the film's whirlwind action scenes, excellent script and expert direction from Pete Travis, there is a good chance that may happen. There are lots of reboots or remakes of certain films, and "Dredd" ranks up there as one of the best. Both fans of the comic books and new viewers who might have never heard of the character before will be clamoring for a sequel. They can only hope the studio executives hear them.