The Dark Dredd 3-D Is Nothing to Fear

Judge, jury, and [insert explosion]

Typically, the creators of comic book adaptations assume that ingratiating themselves to anyone unfamiliar with their characters/properties demands boilerplate origin stories where protagonists exhaustively declare who they are in no uncertain terms. This is, thankfully, not true of Dredd, whose creators have the confidence to treat their narrative like just another episode of their antihero's serialized adventures. Scripted by novelist-turned-screenwriter Alex Garland (The Beach, Never Let Me Go) and directed by Pete Travis (the execrable Vantage Point), Dredd is proudly degenerate—and it never feels compelled to slow down and explain itself.

The most popular character from proudly pulpy British comics publisher 2000 AD, Judge Dredd is something of a symbol for wise-ass irreverence among the relatively austere, superhero-heavy landscape. He's a monster who readers root for simply because watching a super-cop with no sense of human empathy terrorize hapless crooks is subversively funny. But Dredd succeeds where the 1995 Stallone vehicle failed because Travis and Garland don't get hung up on replicating the comics' broad sense of humor. Here, Judge Joe Dredd (Karl Urban), a cruel lawman whose job allows him to be "judge, jury, and executioner," is trapped in a tenement by drug-dealing sadists and must shoot his way out. There are numerous scenes of ghoulishly exaggerated violence, as when a pair of blast doors crash down upon a hapless hobo. But unlike Robocop, a film that many of the best Dredd comic stories are indebted to, Dredd is played straight. And that can be pretty funny.

From the distance provided by introductory helicopter shots of the city, the futuristic metropolitan slum of Mega-City One looks fairly staid by the dystopian standards set by Blade Runner, among others. Urban's Dredd is likewise not a Schwarzenegger-size goon nor even a Stallone-size guy. (His all-purpose scowl is pretty impressive, though his monotone voice suggests Val Kilmer's Batman.) When he shoots a hostage-taking thug in the mouth with a phosphorus bullet called a "Hotshot," it's effectively jarring.

Details

Dredd 3-D
Directed by Pete Travis
Lionsgate
Opens September 21

Dredd's real staying power comes from its creators' abject refusal to spell things out. Dredd is a man of few words, so Garland makes the ones he has count, especially in his scenes with Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), his idealistic rookie partner. Still, scenes replicating the effect of slo-mo, a sense-enhancing drug peddled by slum lord Ma-Ma (the winning Lena Headey), show more clearly than any of the film's ingratiatingly direct dialogue and compelling characterizations just why we root for Urban's more-bad-than-good guy. As bullets rip through flesh, and bodies fall through the air accompanied by sparks of light and tinkling glass, Travis allows us to revel in amoral spectacle. Yes, it's bad for you, but that's what makes Dredd the hero the comic book film needs now, most of all.

 
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20 comments
FroBo
FroBo

I really can't believe some of the negative reviews of Dredd that I'm reading.  A lot of critics just did not get this movie, or just had a knee-jerk negative reaction to the authoritarian overtones and/or the violence.  I find it ironic, because the Law is definitely not in control of Megacity One in this film. I don't see much evidence of any all-powerful controlling elite regime.  It's a landscape of gangs and warlords, with the Law just being one of the better armed gangs that at least tries to help the innocent.

colinraeburn
colinraeburn

" Robocop, a film that many of the best Dredd comic stories are indebted to ... (i)n stories like "Purgatory" and "Inferno," the cycle of influence comes back around"

 

While I appreciate the points you make in your replies to others, the Morrison and Millar penned Dredd stories you cite are commonly held to be among THE WORST Dredd stories in the canon. Those two had little interest in the character, and did indeed portray him as an indestructible, swaggering badass, but the readers hated it, and Wagner had to be brought back in to rescue the strip from corporate mediocrity with THE PIT.

 

That story featured a Dredd who barely draws his weapon, plays up his flaws as a human being, and further explores his doubts concerning the system which have provided the narrative backbone of Wagner's work for the last 25 years.

 

Dredd's unique in comics, in that his creator has scripted the vast majority of the stories, and the only example I can think of where Wagner overtly referenced ROBOCOP - either as an influence, or as something Dredd influenced - was MECHANISMO, from the early Nineties. That sequence actually played up the human side of Dredd and contrasted his willingness to deviate from his programming with that of his foes, but it wasn't a particularly great or significant addition to Wagner's body of work.

 

Thanks for such a considered and perceptive review, Simon; I especially agree with your comments regarding the decision to dispense with any backstory and explicatory dialogue; it's one of the film's real strengths. It's indicative of film makers who trust that the audience have the intelligence to figure character, motivation and subtext out for themselves; and are confident in their own ability to tease those same things out through the interplay of imagery and action.

 

2000AD
2000AD

@stimpson_cjs Other way round, Earthlet!

for_a_dollar
for_a_dollar

@stimpson_cjs I'd buy that for a dollar!

stimv1
stimv1

Dredd comic stories indebted to Robocop? Not so. In fact the reverse is true. The Robocop script originated from an unmade draft Judge Dredd script, hence Robocop lifted all of Dredd's taglines and the image of the chin jutting from the helmet. The Judge Dredd comic originates from the late 70s and all the classic storylines were written well before Robocop was made. Great review otherwise though.

LCosgrove
LCosgrove

@simonsaybrams You make it sound like WAR ZONE. I'm excited. :-)

Napalm_Justice
Napalm_Justice

@simonsaybrams Looking forward to seeing the film :)

newdawnfades
newdawnfades

@simonsaybrams Is there a lot of slo-mo?

stevenson_keith
stevenson_keith

@adambrowne666 if you don't like exposition you should catch up with The Bridge on SBS, beautifully tight writing.

simonsabrams
simonsabrams

 @stimv1 Note that I didn't say that all of them were. I can point to several DREDD comics that not only knowingly paraphrase ROBOCOP, and even ape the character's mannerisms. So no, not wrong.

simonsaybrams
simonsaybrams

@LCosgrove Yknow, I want to like WAR ZONE so bad that I think a rewatch is in order.

simonsaybrams
simonsaybrams

@newdawnfades Couple scenes. Slow-Mo is the name of the drug /and/ the effect, btw.

Junbun
Junbun

@simonsabrams Yeah, you are wrong. Really wrong. Robocop is heavily influenced by the Dredd comics (the term ripoff isn't totally out of bounds, in fact). There are entire lines of dialogue in the first Robocop movie that are taken WORD FOR WORD from Dredd comics of the late 70s and early 80s, such as "Your move, creep," and "Dead or alive, you're coming with me," among others. As stimv1 pointed out, even the look of Robocop's helmet is taken straight from Dredd's design. Frank Miller even decided to have a little fun with the "homage" in Robocop 2 by having Robocop ride a motorcycle for no discernible reason. Robocop is a good movie, but it wouldn't exist if not for Dredd. Alex Garland even decided to have some fun with it in this movie by having Dredd say a line from the ED-209 ("You have 20 seconds to comply.")

LCosgrove
LCosgrove

@simonsaybrams I'll do that with ya. I've been itching to watch it again myself.

simonsabrams
simonsabrams

 @Junbun  @simonsabrams Junbun, no, again, not wrong. I know full well that Dredd influenced Robocop. But I only have so much space in a review. And I'm not writing a history of the comic character, which I am fairly familiar with. In stories like "Purgatory" and "Inferno," the cycle of influence comes back around and, yes, Dredd is influenced by a character that he originally influenced. But again, you are objecting to an incorrect inference. Nobody is saying Robocop came first. I said that Robocop influenced some of the better Dredd stories. That's an entirely subjective claim. You can disagree with it all you want. But it's not wrong, nor does pointing to the history of influence between the two characters prove your point.

 

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