Movie Review: Dredd


Director: Pete Travis

Writers: John Wagner, Carlos EzquerraAlex Garland

Stars: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey

Verdict: Good enough

Dredd is something that we don’t really see a lot these days. A dystopia that isn’t also a YA novel, (seriously Hollywood The Hunger Games and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire were good but why keep bothering?). It follows Karl Urban, (Star Trek), as the titular stony faced judge, tasked with taking a first timer out into the real world for assessment. Not the most revolutionary plot in the world, but then it becomes further complicated by the two of them becoming trapped in a high-rise on a drugs bust, and the residents are turned on the judges. Ok so it might be Training Day meets The Raid with a dash of Blade Runner thrown in, and a tonal whiff of RoboCop and High-Rise, and that would be fine, if it was as good as, if not better than, these classic films. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t elevate the material it’s riffing off in the same way as something like Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, or The Cabin in the Woods

Let’s just get this straight, the film is not bad. It’s actually quite good, but it’s serviceable at best. Now this isn’t the first movie based off of this property and my god is this film better then Judge Dredd but then again I don’t need to tell you that because well, it’s really not hard to be better than Judge Dredd is it? For a start Dredd never takes off his helmet. The Judge himself, Karl Urban, knows what the character is and his history, and plays up the gruffness and the chin to absurd levels, that verge on the comedic. And in the end I think that means the Robocop comparison really isn’t that far off because like Robocop this is some macabre comedy that in the way of Evil Dead II, gets a lot of it’s comedy just from how over the top and campy it is. When they want to eliminate the judges what do they do? The break out the mounted gattling guns and take out a whole floor. When you want to kill someone selling someone else’s drugs on your turf what do you do? You skin them, drug them with the film’s drug of the week slo-mo and drop them from 200 stories. The problem here is, is that when the film wants to be serious it feels incredibly flat. For example Lena Heady, (Game of Thrones) is great as the villain in any other movie of this type, she does play it incredibly straight, so when she’s on screen with Dredd it makes for an interesting dynamic but for most of the time she just comes across as not quite as funny as Jack Nicholson in The Departed. In truth it really does seem like Karl Urban and the filmmakers were the only ones in on the joke, because the violence is incredibly over the top in a very Robocop, Total Recall, Paul Verhoeven way.

I do love Alex Garland, (Ex_Machina28 Days Later…Sunshine), but I feel like maybe his script didn’t quite understand that the over the top violent aspect was what people loved about the comics which may have caused some confusion. However he has done something right, all the best dystopian stories, from Blade Runner to 1984, just have a very personal, smaller story set inside a larger world, and they use that to help realise the world they’re in properly, which is why the trapped-in-a-highrise conceit works so brilliantly. And the film looks beautiful, if a bit over saturated, that may have been what they were going but for me it just doesn’t work. 

In the end it was unfortunate this film came out after The Raid because you can’t help comparisons, the action in the raid is beautiful and balletic and brutal and exciting, where as in Dredd it’s more like the head explosion in Scanners but slightly less fun, only slightly though. It has slow motion violence that’s similar to, but nearly as good as, the elevator sequence in Drive, and in the end all these comparisons are inevitable but unfortunate because I’m spending the whole movie thinking off all these movies I like more than Dredd


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