Monday, September 24, 2012

"I am the law." Dredd review

I should clarify that I don't really read many comic books. Aside from a couple Spider-Man comics over the years I don't read comics all that much. So I never read the Judge Dredd comics. Along with that, I don't remember the Sylvester Stallone film at all. I know it was terrible, but that's about it. So when I went to go see Dredd I basically knew next to nothing about the world the characters inhabited apart from the basic premise. So I didn't have any real expectations for this film apart from it being a good action movie.

So it pleases me to say that Dredd succeeds in reaching my expectations. It's a competent action movie that hearkens back to the classic action movies of the 80's. It doesn't have a truly groundbreaking premise, but I never once felt this movie needed to be anything more than what it is: which is an action film. However this isn't a bad thing, this movie is exactly what it needed to be. In this day and age, where the phrase "big dumb action movie" has taken on a new meaning with the likes of Transformers, it's actually really refreshing to have an action movie that feels more like the films that created action stars like Stallone and Schwarzenegger. It's a classic action movie, through and through, and it proves to be entertaining. 

In fact, from the very beginning of this movie I couldn't help but shake the feeling that Dredd felt like classic sci-fi action movies like The Running Man and Total Recall. Sure, the post-apocalyptic feeling could be attributed to this, in fact this film should be lauded for it's great set design and locations. I wasn't surprised to see that they filmed parts of this movie in Johannesburg, because it serves as a perfect analogue for a post-apocalyptic setting (no offence to the people of Johannesburg but the place looks like Los Angeles' crack whore sister). It's great, and not once was I taken out of the film because it wasn't too apocalyptic enough. And the main setting, a massive super structure called the "Peach Trees," looked fantastically downtrodden. 

However, it's not the locations and set design that make this film entertaining, it's the talented cast. Karl Urban's chin is great as Judge Dredd. He's a tough as nails, cold, and calculating dealer of justice. While the movie does hint at Urban's Dredd having some depth behind the mask, it isn't explored, yet doesn't really need to be. Dredd is like a Terminator, his motivation is simple and clear: dish out justice where it needs to be dished out. If anything, his actions in the film explore what kind of a person Dredd is, and he's a total badass. The more developed character is Olivia Thirlby's rookie Anderson, a Judge trainee who failed basic training yet is getting a second chance because she's got psychic powers. Thirlby's performance is arguably the best as we see her grow throughout the film from a timid rookie to a tough as nails killing machine like Dredd himself. However, because I'm a big fan of Game of Thrones, my favorite character is Lena Headey's Ma-ma. 

Headey brings her menace to the big screen and I never once felt like she wasn't scary as hell. The makeup artist here should be noted here because they are able to turn the beautiful Headey into a believable drug addict/kingpin. While the scars do this well enough (unless you find scars attractive like Krogans and myself do) it's the work they did to her teeth that really sell the illusion. Her teeth are browned and blackened much like a real addict's would be, and every time Headey grinned I cringed (eye gore and teeth squick me out more than anything).

The story is simple: Dredd and Anderson are trapped in the Peach Trees and have to fight their way to the top floor to apprehend Ma-ma. It doesn't need to be any more complicated than that and that's a good thing. I know I usually harp on movies not having  a good or deep story, but when it comes to action films I make an exception. As long as the story isn't convoluted and filled with plot holes I don't mind if it just serves to put the characters into increasingly dangerous situations just to get to the action.

The action and visuals prove to be fun and explosive. Regardless of the fact that the film really doesn't provide anything new or groundbreaking the action works. It has a tinge of hyper-violence dashed into it to provide some interesting visuals. I had the misfortune of watching this film in 3D, however this film proved to be competent in making the 3D add depth to the film rather than have stuff fly out at you, however this was mixed with some amazing slow motion footage to provide some fun visual effects. The slow motion action scenes are filled with explosions, gunfire, and bloody gibs and it's spectacular! These scenes are the only time things really jump out at you but they aren't really obnoxious about it. It's all done rather competently.

You may notice I've used the word "competent" often to describe this movie. The fact of the matter is that this is a competently made film. It doesn't insult your intelligence and keeps you engaged in the action taking place. The characters and acting are good. Dredd is awesome, Anderson is a smart and amiable protagonist, and Ma-ma is threatening and terrifying. They story is simple yet well written. The action is fun, hyper-kinetic, and gloriously violent. Even the 3D is competently used. The movie is what it needed to be, and it delivers what you expect. It's a fun movie, one that proves to keep your attention and doesn't insult your intelligence. Sometimes, that's enough to satisfy your expectations. 

I give Dredd 4 Judge helmets out of 5   

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