Caught this on pay-per-view the other night and found it to be thoroughly enjoyable.
In 1995 the first Judge Dredd movie was released starring Sylvester Stallone at the peak of his steroidal box office drawing power. That movie was a mash-up of Blade Runner, Demolition Man, and other flicks that some purists (I'm not one as I'm only peripherally familiar with the Dredd character) decried as too far afield from the original comic source. Though it did have hottie Diane Lane in a body suit going for it, so that was nice.
I'm assuming the success of the Nolan/Frank Miller Batman trilogy convinced someone that Dredd could be rebooted if it was "gritted up" properly, so we get this new version released in 2012. I'm hearing it was planned as a trilogy which sort of validates my assumption here.
Anyway, we have Karl Urban cast as Dredd in this version. And since Dredd does not remove his helmet in the film, Urban is probably the best choice for him, since he should have his scowl patented. Much like Hugo Weaving in V for Vendetta, Dredd's entire range of emotion (such as it is) has to be portrayed in body language and lower half facial expressions. I cannot think of anyone better to do this than Urban.
The movie opens with Dredd chasing some criminals through the streets of Mega City. Once they kill a pedestrian, Dredd goes into full judge mode, using his motorbike's (a more practical looking bike than Stallone's version) machine guns to crash the van they're driving. With two perps dead, Dredd stalks the third guy into a mall where the dude has a woman hostage. Dredd gives the guy a choice, life in Iso-cubes or death. When the baddie refuses, Dredd gives the first of several nice one-liners: "Negotiation's over." then shoots the guy dead. Unlike typical cop movies, the woman doesn't scream at Dredd for being a fascist or risking her life, but sincerely thanks him.
Returning to the precinct house, Dredd is given a new assignment -- a one day evaluation of a rookie who barely failed at the academy. Cassandra Anderson, played by petite Olivia Thirlby, is the most powerful psychic the force has come across and the higher ups want to see if she can make it anyway. My understanding is that Anderson is a much beloved character in the comic, so this is an appreciated nod to the fan boys out there.
A nice touch here as once they get going, Dredd defers to Anderson in almost all situations. As a training officer at the Post Office, I get three days to train new carriers. The first day, I drive, mostly explaining things and nuances about my route. The second day, I only drive the most difficult parts. But the third day, it's all them. I let them make all the mistakes and only point out what they're doing wrong and the consequences of those mistakes -- so they'll learn. The writers did this with this script and it hit home with me. Another minor style point that I don't know many would appreciate.
Anderson decides they should investigate a triple homicide in a building named Peach Trees -- one of the mega structures of the new world. A mile high mixed usage building housing businesses and living quarters. Like all engineered societies, it's a slum, like the one Anderson grew up in. A place where she wants to make a difference.
Here's where we get a couple more important plot points. The building is run by a gang -- the Ma Ma Clan. Ma Ma is a former hooker named Madeline Madrigal played with greasy goodness by Lena Headey. Scarred and demented, Headey plays Ma Ma as a serpentine psychotic -- understated, drugged out, totally ruthless . . . it's a fabulous performance.
The clan produces the movie's signature drug -- Slo Mo, something ingested through an inhaler that tricks the mind into feeling like time is moving at one percent its normal speed. The inhaler is pretty cool, with a glass tube on the top with lava-light like viscous fluids inside.
Dredd again defers to Anderson who decides they should find the drug dealer's apartment and apprehend the assumed suspects. Outside the apartment there's a great exchange between Dredd and Anderson. After asking Anderson if this is her first live fire situation, Dredd points out that Anderson has forgotten her helmet. Anderson explains that the helmet might interfere with her psychic abilities. Dredd deadpans that "... a bullet to the head might interfere with them more." heh
The shoot out inside is a eye popping scene. The dude's are all high on Slo Mo, so it is shot in hyper slo-motion. We see bullets ripping through bodies and the concurrent impact waves, blood droplets flying . . . amazing. The movie was released in 3D, so I imagine this looked awesome on screen. But during the "arrest" Anderson realizes that they've apprehended one of the killers in the triple homicide, who also just happens to be one of Ma Ma's top lieutenants. When they try to leave, that's when things get crazy.
The mega towers are equipped with blast doors and shutters to survive nuclear war, she seals up the building and attempts to hunt down and kill the two judges. This is the bulk of the movie and it is well done and believable, at least as much as any movie is. We get to see Anderson grow from a tentative rookie to a remorseless Judge who kills without hesitation.
Urban plays Dredd like a shark -- a deliberate, relentless, lethal destructive force. Like I mentioned earlier, he does an excellent job of portraying various emotions through only scowls, grimaces, pursed lips and body language. We get the mission variable sidearm -- the Lawgiver, a more practical uniform (another nod to Nolan's Batman reboot), some pretty cool field dressing for gunshots, a nice touch of Dredd reloading his firearm and securing more ammunition (a often overlooked bit in the infinite firepower guns in most movies) and a clever finale.
As previously noted, I believe the movie was planned as part one of a trilogy. I don't know what the parameters to green light the sequels are, the flick cost $35 million to make and only grossed $13 million according to Imdb. But I'd like to see two more of these. It's so hard to get decent adaptations of comic books (don't get me started on the X-Men or Wolverine, ugh) these days, but this is a series that deserves to be made.
If you haven't seen Dredd, I highly recommend it.
And as a bonus, here's some pics of the wonderful Lena Headey from a recent issue of Esquire:
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