Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Cinema File #23: "Dredd" Review

(A Brief Programming Note: Originally I had intended to do a little mini series here with a trilogy of comic book movie reviews, the second one being Amazing Spiderman, but upon re-watching the film, my glowing opinion hasn't changed much from my first viewing, and I feel I can't write that review without repeating myself. If you haven't listened to the podcast in the previous link, I highly recommend it. It's probably my favorite episode, and encapsulates both my opinion, and I think the general arguments both for and against the movie fairly well. Anyway, on with Dredd.)

I'm at best a casual fan of 2000 AD, the British sci fi comic magazine from which Judge Dredd originates. I can't claim the same sort of geek appreciation or knowledge of canon that I can for say, Spiderman, or even Batman. Coincidentally, my introduction to the character was through a series of Judge Dredd/Batman crossovers that eventually led me to track down some of the original stories, but I am by no means an expert on Judge Dredd history. That being said, I think I know enough to know a good Judge Dredd movie when I see one, and this latest effort, a much needed reboot after the campy Stallone version from the 90's, seems pretty solid to me.

Don't get me wrong, I actually like the original Judge Dredd movie, even if what I later learned about the character was a lot different from that movie's portrayal. Its a decent sci fi action comedy in the same vein as Demolition Man, another movie at the time I quite enjoyed, and is often criticized unfairly in my view. In fact, while I think that overall this new Dredd is a much better film, and certainly a much closer take on the character, if I had one major criticism, its that it is missing a lot of the crazy satirical humor of the original movie, which I always felt was more in keeping with the comic. Dredd may be stone faced and serious, but from what I know, his world is often not so straight forward. The comic is a sometimes over the top satire of authoritarianism where the guilty and innocent alike are trampled under the boot heel of a staunch moral absolutist. Dredd downplays this aspect in favor of a more by the numbers action movie where the good guys and bad guys are clearly defined and we always know who we're supposed to root for.

Judge Dredd is, in roleplaying terms, a lawful neutral character, not a true good guy. He upholds the law no matter what it says, and in Mega City One, that places him in a position of being a tyrant as much as a good honest cop. He's not corrupt, but he is ruthless and uncompromising. Dredd doesn't allow for much of the moral ambiguity that attracts me to the comic, unless you count the excessive violence he indulges in, but in this day and age, that's something we support in our action heroes. At times, Dredd feels a little too nondescript, as if it could really be any action movie, and the fact that its Judge Dredd specifically doesn't really matter to the story. I've yet to see The Raid: Redemption, an action movie with a similar setting that this film has been compared to, but I wonder if it invites the comparison by not being more unique in its own right. What we get is good, but a few of the trappings of the comics, robots, mutants, and so forth, may have set it apart and made it something more than just Die Hard with a neat gun and a mask.

Carl Urban does surprisingly well in the title role, slipping into the gruff, no nonsense Judge Dredd, even if he doesn't exactly fill out the suit physically. This is another area where I actually thought Stallone was a good choice originally, at least when it came to the need for stoicism and a strong jaw line, but here the movie sticks closer to the one cardinal rule of Judge Dredd, that Dredd never removes his helmet, and hardly ever smiles. I didn't quite see Urban in this when I first heard of the casting, but then again, I said the same thing when I heard he was going to be Bones, and this is now the second time he's lived up to an iconic role with ease. I'm a little less wild about Anderson, Dredd's psychic partner, if only because they use this story to introduce her not as the mature and mysterious character I read about in the comics, but as a plucky young new recruit, which often relegates her to a cop movie cliche rookie. There's nothing wrong with the actress, I just would have preferred a different take on the character, as well as more exploration of her abilities, which almost become an afterthought by the end. The main villain Ma Ma is also a bit bland for my tastes. Not bad mind you, and I understand why they couldn't have done something more memorable like Judge Death in the first new movie out, but a little more character development would have been nice.

Even so, just on the standard of balls out actiony goodness, you can't go wrong with Dredd. The set up of two cops against a legion of criminals in a highrise gives one the distinct impression of a video game progressing level by level. While I will often chide big budget movies for sacrificing plot for elaborate set pieces and mindless action, here the balance works perfectly, to the point where a late in the game introduction of more judges that seems to scream for more background than we're given almost gets in the way, prompting me to demand less plot and more kick ass gunplay. My Dirty Sons Of Pitches colleague disagrees on this point, but I thought the gimmick of the Slo Mo drug that alters a users perception of time really worked in the scenes in which it was deployed, and sets up a dramatic death scene that makes this the only movie I can think of that I regret not seeing in 3D. I'm generally against 3D movies and avoid them whenever possible, as I feel the benefit rarely justifies the extra cost or the dark dullness created by the glasses. If any movie merited 3D though, it's Dredd. It's just a shame that its bombed so badly, and so few people will get the chance.

This is a definite recommendation for those who haven't seen it. It's not gonna make you think, but it won't make you feel like an idiot either. It's just good, clean, extremely bloody fun. Its the best time you'll have cheering on a gun toting fascist all year!

For more reviews in The Cinema File, CLICK HERE
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