The idea of a new “Judge Dredd” adaptation is so tainted for me by the 1995 Sylvester Stallone version that I treated Lionsgate’s Dredd as a bastard project from day one. “There’s no way this will be good,” I convinced myself. After a rash of positive reviews out of the San Diego Comic-Con this past July, and Lionsgate’s release of the ultra-violent clip, they had my full attention.
Dredd, directed by Pete Travis, and written by 28 Days Later‘s Alex Garland, is shockingly similar to the 2011 The Raid. In the latest adaptation of the comic book, Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), Accompanied by a mutant rookie (Olivia Thirlby), respond to a call where the local drug lord, Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), has set up her operations. She resides on the top floor and, in an attempt to keep this secret, locks the two Judges in the complex. The two must work their way the building to not only survive, but to kill the drug lord and stop the mass production of the new drug, SLO-MO.
By the end of the first act I was on the edge if my seat rocked by the insane action, violence and filmmaking style. My internal dialogue screamed, “why remake RoboCop? This IS RoboCop!” Dredd taps into late 80’s/early 90’s action films such as RoboCop, while also tapping into such films as Terminator, Predator, Predator 2 and even The Crow. Those of my generation will be drooling in glee BEFORE the two Judges even enter the complex.
Once in the complex, we’re introduced to Ma-Ma in a stunning cinematic vision that shows us what it’s like to be on SLO-MO. The cinematography and slow motion filmmaking was mesmerizing, yet ironically representational of the rest of the film. While the idea of having a strong (and incredibly violent) female villain was of absolute brilliance, it wasn’t enough to elevate what becomes an hour of exposition and shootouts.
Travis makes a noble attempt to mix up the gunfire with a variety of weaponry, but, ultimately, it becomes a tad monotonous. This is where The Raid succeeds, as that film works its way from gunfire straight down to barebones fistfights – that is what keep it interesting and varied enough so that the audience doesn’t become desensitized. Dredd, through two of the most climactic moments, fails to deliver that final blow (ironically, one in the vein of RoboCop, which in my opinion is the best ending of all time). As I’ve said many times before, if you’re going to emulate something, at least try and top it…
With that said, Dredd is a cinematic experience you don’t want to miss out on. The sound mix is something to behold – having made my heart slip multiple beats – and the 3-D is nothing short of stunning (especially during the drug induced SLO-MO sequences). The icing on the cake is the blissful, off-the-wall violence that only Lionsgate has the balls to deliver (think Punisher).
Dredd is a supercharged comic adaptation that’s faithful to the source material and made specifically for the fans. There’s nothing to indicate an attempt to appeal to mass audiences, which means Dredd was made for YOU, which is a rare treat in the cinematic haze of remakes, franchise films and generic thrillers. Even with a lackluster finale, soak this magnificent work of art in and enjoy the hour and a half gift from the movie gods.