Dredd (2012)

26 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I never considered “Judge Dredd” a household name when it comes to comic book lovers, but then again, I myself am not a comic book lover (not that there’s anything wrong with being one), so I’m not one to talk. Maybe there is a fan base out there, though I’m certain if there is, they didn’t take well to the cheesiness of the 1995 film adaptation “Judge Dredd,” starring Sylvester Stallone as the title character. That being said, this 2012 “second try” to adapt the comic book series—simply entitled “Dredd” or “Dredd 3D”—is probably the best film adaptation those people could ask for.

To put it simple, “Dredd” is a heavily-stylized, extremely-violent action film that kicks ass. It’s an insanely forceful thrill ride from start to finish, with a dose of intense violence mixed with dark comic streaks. Once the action picks up, it never lets up—in fact, by the time this movie was over, I was exhausted by what was being thrown at me.

It’s an odd thing for me to say “being thrown at me,” since I didn’t wind up seeing it in 3D. Speaking of which, I’m glad I didn’t. Forget that 3D kind of makes things unbearable in movies; even if “Dredd” did it right, I would still be suffering vertigo nonetheless. We get towering, hovering, panning shots above and below great tower heights, among many instinctual visuals done greatly by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle. His artistic style to “Dredd” is unbelievable and the action scenes, as a result, are suitably graphic and well-choreographed. “Dredd” is a visual treat, to say the absolute least.

But it’s also not for the faint of heart. An example of this style comes early in the film (and which makes a few reprisals here and there)—you don’t just see a bullet enter someone’s face; you see every blood drop explode outward, in slow-motion.

The story takes place in the future, which of course sucks. It’s always lousy in the future in the movies, isn’t it? In this “cursed Earth,” a dystopian large city, the law enforcers serve as judge, jury, and executioner all in one. The baddest of them all is Judge Dredd (Karl Urban)—with a cool uniform, a helmet that covers the top half of his face (we never see him take the thing off), and a cold, monotone voice recalling Clint Eastwood and Batman.

Karl Urban is unrecognizable as Dredd. That’s not just because we never see his face partially covered by that helmet, leaving his mouth and chin exposed, but because of his deep growl and his deadpan persona. You’d never link this man to the 2009 “Star Trek” (he played young Bones McCoy). He’s also grimly funny too, as he delivers one-liners in the most depraved situations he runs into, providing some very big laughs.

Also a lot of fun is Olivia Thirlby, best known for her indie roles as “Juno’s” best friend and the pretty high school girlfriend in “Snow Angels.” Here, she plays a blonde mop-haired psychic “mutie” (slang for “mutant” in this world—I guess stealing “muto” from “Waterworld” was too much) who becomes the rookie Judge Anderson. Thirlby displays a calm (yet somewhat ethereal) yet confident screen presence, whether it’s looking danger in the eyes or through their heads (because she has the power to enter your mind and mess with it to seek information—now that’s awesome). She’s a ton of fun and delivers some badass moments as well. She is no damsel in distress.

The real story begins as Dredd and Anderson respond to a disturbance at the 200-tower Peach Trees housing complex and interrupt a party where the latest drug is being used—a drug that allows everything in your perspective to slow down time (this is where a lot of slow-motion visual styles come into place). Facial-scarred drug-lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) has been killing her subjects by enforcing the drug onto them, and pushing them out the window from the top floor, making their fall seem longer than it is. Dredd and Anderson take a suspect (Wood Harris) into custody. Knowing that they will interrogate him for information, Ma-Ma forcefully arranges for the entire building to be locked down and insists that she’ll keep it this way until the Judges are caught and killed.

This sets up a series of events that lead to close calls, strikebacks, shootouts, and just about everything else you’d expect to see here. “Dredd” pulls out all the stops and then some. This film is alive with energy as Dredd and Anderson find new ways to outsmart the heavily dangerous thugs looking to shoot anything that moves. But it’s OK—the Judges have specially designed guns that have voice command and many features (automatic fire, stun, double-whammy, and more). That gives them advantages that lead to some impressive developments.

“Dredd” is violent, bloody, heavily-stylized…and it’s just so freaking cool. There’s never a dull moment, it’s visually exciting, the action is top-notch, and it’s just an intense thrill ride from beginning to end. I look forward to a sequel, and I think there will be one, seeing as how audiences are hungry for mindless entertainment. I guess I could describe “Dredd” as precisely that, but that would be considered an understatement. This movie just kicks ass.

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