Dredd: A Significant Improvement on Pipe Dream Justice

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Director: Pete Travis

Writers: John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra, Alex Garland (Screenplay)

Stars: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headley

Genre: Action, Sci-fi

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If you can recall the original 1995 Judge Dredd film starring Sylvester Stallone simply titled as Judge Dredd then you would remember how horrifically awful that film was. This, however, is one man’s opinion. I do know some people who enjoyed Stallone grunt around in a poorly portrayed crumbling society, and for this I do not judge them for everyone has their own views on cinema; which we are thankful for because the world would be a boring place if we all lived in singularity.

However, when it comes to comparing Judge Dredd to the –again simply titled- 2012 Dredd film, the latter movie is a significant improvement of the former for the sheer story-telling and microcosmic critiques on society that the latest film gives us; and not to mention the beautifully captured seedy underbelly of the world in which the Judges have to slug through.

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Dredd eclipses the first films flamboyant, over-the-top action and gimmicky comic relief for the sort of grimy, sadistic and darker violence found in 1970’s exploitation films that generally inspired the creation of the Dredd character in the first place. Dredd pays homage to the image, behavior, personality and attitude to what the Dredd character is supposed to be known for: A serious, ruthless and unapologetic man of rules and action. Essentially a man who doesn’t take the law and justice lightly, yet instead, delivers it swiftly and brutally upon those who stand between him, and the thin thread of order that society hangs by everyday in his world.

Dredd is a film that’s so aggressive, dark, and audaciously violent, that it becomes deliciously entertaining. You’ve never had so much fun watching criminal scum get shot in the mouth in super slow-motion. The slow-motion is more than a gimmick in this case; it’s crucial to the plot, which involves a new street drug called Slo-Mo that tricks users’ brains into thinking that time is moving at 1% its usual rate.

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The manufacture and supply of Slo-Mo in Mega-City One — a mammoth metropolis that spans the Eastern Seaboard from Boston to Washington D.C. — is controlled by a drug lord named Ma-Ma (Lena Headley), who resides on the top floor of a 200-story apartment tower called Peach Trees. Headley, rocking a punkish haircut, gruesomely serrated facial scar, and a seriously bad attitude, is one of the most lusciously evil villains in recent movies. She’s so cruel she makes Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) himself look like an altar boy.

When Dredd, a tremendously accomplished member of Mega-City One’s Über-fascistic police force, shows up to investigate a murder in the Peach Trees, Ma-Ma senses a threat to her power. She puts the building in a lock-down procedure, announcing that no one will be allowed in or out until Dredd and his rookie partner, Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) are dead. Anyone caught harboring them is as good as dead, too.

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The previous Judge Dredd movie was just a pure piss in the wind; this one, directed by Pete Travis and written by Alex Garland of 28 Days Later, is a bit smarter and a lot more convincing. The Slo-Mo drug allows cinematographer Anthony Dodd Mantle to create some truly unforgettable imagery out of relatively innocuous things: breaking glass, splashing bathwater, and general debris alike. Watching bullets and shot-gun shells rip through walls and criminals becomes somewhat of a viewing equivalent to that of an open house, or gallery walk; it’s a poetic mediation on punishment, and how good it feels when seeing someone rightfully gets theirs.

This film makes the viewer question: Is Garland indicting a justice system that cares more about executing criminals than helping its citizenry, or a society that seems almost entirely inhabited by drug dealers and murderers; the bottom feeders of society while the elite are either lawmen or corrupt landlords? Maybe he’s merely presenting a rather depressing view of all of humanity on either side of the law. Dredd himself is a warped perversion of the Western democratic justice system: a critique of its dark side or an indulgent, albeit, extreme right-wing fantasy of tough justice.

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Although, as played by Urban from underneath an over-sized helmet that obscures all but his lips and chin, he’s a seductively interesting character; think Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan in a future dystopia. Strong, honest, ruthless, and full of deadpan one-liners, he’s a great anti-hero and a repulsive thug all rolled into one man. Urban’s grim presence is nicely balanced out though by Thirlby, who provides Dredds few notes of empathy (or weakness, if you wish) and offers the hard-boiled judge a new perspective on people and the world.

I rather liked the character of Judge Anderson. Anderson wore a bit of her fear on her sleeve, whereas Dredd kept his hidden even though he was probably just as nervous. However, her fear is what kept her going and eventually she turned it into perseverance, then full-blown confidence; a nice compliment to Dredds natural leadership and ability to keep calm in the most jaw-dropping of events and circumstances.

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Dredd isn’t exactly the most quickly paced action movie — no movie with this much slow-motion footage could be. It proceeds like its protagonist: meticulously but relentlessly. This pace works for this type of film and how it wanted to be smarter than its predecessor. The slo-moments allow the viewer to take a step back and collect his/her thoughts instead of just mindlessly watching some guy get his face fed by 9mm slugs; thus, turning it into Swiss cheese. This film was everything but cheesy.

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