Dredd Review: The Dredd You've Been Waiting For

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Dredd Review: The Dredd You've Been Waiting For

By TK | Film Reviews | September 21, 2012 | Comments ()

DREDD 2012_Karl Urban2.jpg

When it comes to comic book adaptations, there are two basic issues: Is it a good adaptation of the character, and is it a good movie. It's hard to hit both notes. Wanted, for example, is an enjoyable movie but not a particularly solid adaptation. On the other hand, Punisher: War Zone is an excellent adaptation of the character of Frank Castle, but an atrocious movie. More often than not, you get lazy efforts like Ghost Rider or Catwoman. There are the rare films that hit both notes: The first couple of X-Men films, Nolan's Batman trilogy, Marvel's Avengers films.

And now, we have Dredd. For you fans of the comic, I'm delighted to say you can now wash the bitter, acrid taste of Stallone's Judge Dredd from your mouth. In fact, you can wipe if from your memory wholesale, because Dredd, directed by Pete Travis (Endgame, Vantage Point), stars Karl Urban as the Judge Dredd you've been waiting for. And better yet, it's a damn good movie. Not perfect, but still thoroughly enjoyable.

One of the best aspects of Dredd is that it eschews the origin story approach. It gives a quick background -- nuclear war has laid waste to society as we know it, and a massive, sprawling city -- Mega-City One -- is one of the last remaining vestiges of society. A vast, crime-ridden megalopolis that stretches from Boston to DC, its only saving grace is that it's better than the mutant-infested radioactive wasteland beyond its walls. There is but one law in the decrepit, decaying Mega-City One, and that law is the Judges. They are literal judges, juries and executioners, heavily armed and armored cops who pass sentences on the spot and, if necessary, dole out the harshest form of justice. And that is all you need to know.

The other interesting facet of Travis' film is that it takes place in a single day. It's quite literally a day-in-the-life picture, a snapshot of the daily hell that the Judges deal with, only on this particular day, things are just a bit more hellish. Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) has been tasked with taking on a rookie partner, Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), for one day to see if she can cut it. They investigate both a triple homicide as well as a new and deadly drug, Slo-Mo, in Peach Trees, a monstrous apartment building run by Mega-City's most vicious criminal, Madelaine "Ma-Ma" Madrigal (Lena Heady). After the Judges arrest one of her lieutenants, Kay (Wood Harris -- Avon Barksdale!), Ma-Ma locks down the entire 200 story building and begins a full-scale hunt for the heads of the two judges.

That's it, in essence. From there on, it's up to the two judges to use a combination of wits, cunning, and unflinching, brutal violence to survive and fight their way to the top and solve the puzzle. And it is thrilling. Karl Urban is pretty much perfect as Dredd. He drops his voice into a rough rasp, but doesn't go so far as to make it ridiculous and incoherent (take not, Christopher Nolan). His constant grim sneer is a perfect image of the character, a hulking legend of a cop who shows no mercy and never, ever hesitates. Thirlby's Anderson is a wide-eyed rookie who also has the benefit of being a powerful psychic, which creates new and fascinating scenarios and standoffs between the judges and the teeming, howling psychotics that are hunting them. Heady is perhaps the most enjoyable as the scarred, beautiful Ma-Ma. Instead of playing the character for a lunatic, Ma-Ma is ice cold, vicious, and completely without conscience. Her harshest punishment is to skin her foes alive and then dose them with Slo-Mo (a drug which makes it feel like time is moving at 1% its normal speed) -- and then throw them off the 200th story balcony. Ma-Ma is not one with whom you should trifle.

The story is relatively simple, but the pace is unrelenting and breathless. It's a pursuit film, although who is pursuing who sometimes gets deliciously murky. It's also incredibly violent and gory, with a stunning body count and some innovative and terrible deaths. As an action film, it's top notch, featuring two desperate protagonists trying to keep themselves alive for a few short hours in a gigantic prison filled with murderers and innocents. Karl Urban's Judge Dredd is a force of nature, Batman with a badge but without the kid gloves. He's a brilliant mind with a belt full of gadgetry (although the uniform has wisely been trimmed down and made more practical), but also a cold-blooded killer who doesn't hesitate to dole out the harshest form of justice.

Dredd also features some startlingly amazing effects, both in the cinematography and the action choreography. Peach Trees is a monolithic pile of despair, a desolate warren of darkened hallways and desolation. Where the money is spent, effects-wise, is on the constant, pitched battles which feature gorgeously horrific splatters of blood and gore and the simply breathtaking depictions of Slo-Mo. The imagery is vivid and lush, giving even the most gruesome of punishments an aura of wonderment. In fact, I'll even say this, something I never thought I'd say: see it in 3D. It's absolutely worth the extra few bucks.

Dredd is a barrage on the sense, a fiercely relentless assault that somehow manages to still deliver solid characterization and dialogue. Yes, there are a few too-cheesy lines here and there, but sometimes that's the price you pay with comic book movies. But occasional stumbling dialogue aside, Dredd is vicious, visceral fun, a mean, nasty ride that's certainly not for the faint of heart. Yet when the blood sprays and the bullets fly and Dredd grimly and pitilessly wades through it all without pause, you won't be able to stop the breathless, wicked smile on your face.

Oh, and for those who are curious: The helmet never comes off. Ever.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • gforcetwo

    Wasn't gonna see it. Now? Will.

  • Some Guy

    Awesome movie complete with an awesome soundtrack.

  • Done deal.
    And a worthy replacement for Stallone's execrable Dredd, which has the dubious distinction of being what my wife and I saw on our first date. September 13 is forever and always referred to in our house as "Judge Dredd Day"; we wander about growing "I am the LAW!" semi-incoherently at each other.

  • Quatermain

    I'm occupied up this weekend, but I have every intention of seeing this and Resident Evil next weekend in a cinema double header. One of my co-workers was having a 'sperger fit today about the efficacy of dosing someone with a drug that slows down their sense of time and then throwing them off a building. It kind of wound down when he realized everyone had stopped listening about 45 seconds after he started.

  • junierizzle

    Really fun movie. I enjoyed it immensely. Only thing, maybe it varies from Theatre to Theatre but I thought the 3D sucked. It didn't take away from the movie but as far as 3D goes, Ive seen better.

    Olivia Thirlby was probably my favorite part. She's great in this. Also, am I the only one that thought Lena Heady was ridiculously hot in this movie? Hey, I like brunettes.

  • Natallica

    Lena Headey is ridiculously hot in everything

  • hapl0
  • Gabs

    Super stoked to hear this may be worth it. I've loved Karl Urban since his (oft shirtless) time on Xena and I keep hoping he'll make it big. Excited!

  • Snath

    Another movie that I believe is both a great adaptation and a great movie is Scott Pilgrim. God I love that movie, and I'm such a fucking Scott Pilgrim fanboy that I'm seriously considering getting his 1Up head from the comic as my next tattoo.

  • John G.

    Why does Dredd get full head gear, but his partner has an exposed target of a head?

  • Tim

    Because she's a psychic, and helmets are bad for psychics. Which is also the given explanation in the comic.

  • TK

    Because the helmet interferes with her psychic abilities. No, really.

  • Wembley

    Then how does she read the Judges' minds when they are wearing helmets?

  • TK

    Apparently that door only swings one way.

  • The Heretic

    Solid review. This however, sold me on seeing it:

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I'm tempted, even though I could care less about Dredd as a property. I'm halting at the gore...

  • Wembley

    It's weird, but the Slo-Mo gore seemed less gory to me.

  • AudioSuede

    Blonde Olivia Thirlby confuses me. Next you'll tell me Emma Stone isn't a redhead.

    Wait, why are you wincing?

  • supergwarr

    the trailers for this made it loook absolutly horrible.

  • TheAggroCraig

    I would say something about how that helmet looks 4 sizes too big for Urban's head, but mocking a Judge is a serious offense and I ain't going into no iso-cubes.

  • Carlito

    Ma-Maaaaaa, just killed your men.
    Put a Lawgiver against their heads, pulled my trigger now they're dead.
    Ma-Maaaaaa, life had just begun, but now I've gone and thrown it all away.

    Ma-Maaaaaa, Oooooooo. Didn't mean to make you die.

    If I'm not back again this time tomorrow, I'm the law, I'm the laaaaaaawwwwwww, as if Stallone never really mattered.

  • TheMaskedEmu

    I just snorted in the middle of my office. Hat tip, sir.

  • no one

    "Oh, and for those who are curious: The helmet never comes off. Ever."
    Was hoping you would answer this question in the review. Thanks.
    This sounds promising, the first good review I've seen so far. Sounds like it could be worth a ticket.

  • Noo

    What reviews have you been reading? The small minority that didn't like it, I guess. It's been pretty damn positive overall.

    Good buzz since SDCC, despite Lionsgate doing a hell of a lot to piss off the fans.

  • malechai

    So it's Judge Dredd. And it's good. ??? Story, characters, comic book adaptation, F/X.... GOOD. !!! Well okay, I guess I'll go see..... Oh. You lost me on the last sentence of you review. Good day to you, sir.

  • athena23

    As a purist, I should be happy that the helmet never comes off. As a Karl Urban fan, I am...disappointed. Oh, well. At least he's in a (seemingly) good movie for a change. (Star Trek aside, he does not have the best track record.)

  • Snath

    He's like Ron Perlman. Pay him and he'll show up, chew some scenery, and make something awful more bearable.

  • Julia


  • Fredo

    Sounds like the kind of popcorn-munching fare best enjoyed with 1000 geeks at the Alamo Drafthouse.

    Too bad I'm nowhere near either.

  • twig

    Wait did TK just enjoy something?

    Somebody record this for posterity.

  • lowercase_ryan

    Sounds like The Raid: Redemption

  • seanfast

    More like Raid Redemption sounded like Dredd. The script for this came out in 2010...

  • lowercase_ryan

    The Raid was written in 2010 also so it sounds like just a coincidence.

  • seanfast

    i didnt say it was written in 2010, im saying it came out in 2010. thats when i got my hands on it and read it.

    garland started writing dredd in 2006 during post production of sunshine. filming began on 12 November 2010.

    raid began filming in march 2011.

    the fact that the films are similar is def a coincidence, i agree. but ive seen a lot of people compare dredd to raid with the intention of saying dredd copied raid's story because raid happened to hit theaters first. this is not the case.

  • lowercase_ryan


  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    Boys, boys, boys, you're both pretty and every film sounds like another film.

  • Carlito

    Game of Death!

  • lowercase_ryan

    game of death? and risk this pretty? Pfffff as if.

  • Carlito

    No. It's a similar plot structure to Bruce Lee's Game of Death:

  • Post-apocalyptic Desperate Dan.

  • frank247

    There are about 4 people who read this site that get that joke, Jim.

    I am at least two of them.

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    Well, that seals it, I'll be seeing it tomorrow.

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