[Review] - Dredd

Courtesy of Reliance Entertainment

There is a meeting that will be happening soon, if not already, at Warner Bros., concerning the direction of the next Batman film. The essence of this meeting will boil down to: do they attempt to replicate the tone of the Nolan films, or go off in a wildly different direction. Do you increase the scope of the films, as the Dark Knight Rises did (and, I personally felt they failed at), or do they keep it tight? Do they rehash the origin story (NO), or expand the Bat family?

After watching Dredd, I feel this is the answer, and the direction comic book movies need to generally move in. With the success of the Avengers, the trend is going to move towards bigger, louder and more, because Hollywood doesn't understand that what made that movie successful was a well developed human drama amongst the explosions. Dredd heads determinately in the opposite direction, a perfect corollary to the summer's other hero offerings.

It's loud, yes. It's bloody, very yes. But it is also compact, almost intimate, and great fun to watch.

Hit the jump to read the review, which contains spoilers devoted to maintaining justice.

Dredd, as a character, is a lot like Batman. In fact, as the most popular British comic book character, he pretty much is the Batman of the UK. His thirst for justice is just as unwavering, his skills and methods just as honed and nigh unstoppable. What separates them is that Dredd works within the system, but remains uncorrupted by it. The nature of the system, and the perception of justice within that system, allows Dredd to go further then other heroes are generally allowed. Dredd is the extreme, because his world exists in extremes.

This film, which obviously respects the source (long running features in 2000 AD), keeps the story grounded. Despite taking place in a Mega City that stretches from Boston to Washington, surrounded by an irradiated wasteland, it never feels the need to explore those ideas. The city isn't the setting, the opening narration that sets up the city is just introducing Dredd. A man, charged with enforcing the law in this sort of setting, would have to be as big as the city itself.

The film examines the world it inhabits through a microcosm. With the action limited to near real time, and inside of one of the city's Mega Blocks, we can extrapolate how the rest of the city functions. How the statistics Dredd provides, that the Judges can respond to only six percent of notable crimes, actually plays out. Two Judges in a building of 75,000 shows us the entire world, without having to show us the entire world. How easily the population is motivated by the powerful, how simple it is to resort to violence because it promises an easy solution, and how isolated this new world existence is.

The violence in the film is cartoonish and exaggerated, but Dredd never is. Dredd is tame, and never gives into the standard, overblown hero tropes. He doesn't make a lot of noise, he doesn't quip (usually), and he doesn't pose. His actions are subtle, methodical and deliberate. Yes, at one point during close combat, he blows a man's head off with an incendiary device. But he doesn't do so to make a point, or to be flashy. He does so out of necessity. Dredd isn't interested in being the action star, he's just doing his job. If this were a crappy film, he'd be claiming he was too old for this shit. Here, he buttons up and goes to work.

Lena Headey doesn't have a lot to do as the villain Ma-Ma, essentially just scowl and give orders, and be generally terrible.  Fortunately, her role doesn't need anything deeper. She isn't meant to be a character, she's meant to represent her role in society. Desperation driven to the maximum, survival at all costs. She's not meat to be sympathetic, because she's cancer. She eats away at goodness, or at least apathy, and ruins it. She personifies everything that Dredd works against.

The show obviously belongs to Karl Urban as Dredd, who conveys so much with little more then a permanent scowl and a couple days worth of stubble. You don't need to know the man under the mask, because again, he isn't meant to be a person, he's the criminal justice system as a whole. Over worked, over idealised, fraying at the edges as the situation gets the better of them. Working within the strictest guidelines of the law, because that's all they have in this environment. No leniency, no hesitation.

The corollary to this is Anderson, wonderfully played by Olivia Thirlby, new to the force, without blood on her hands. She still sees her role as someone who can make a difference, who can change things. Over the course of the film, this erodes, but she never falls to the same level of resignation that Dredd does. In the end, she blames herself, not society. She failed to make the difference, not that society was too much for her. She let them down. Dredd's hesitation is down to his not being able to understand this idea, having seen too much and blaming too much on the world. He honestly feels he does the best that he is allowed to.

It's a fascinating film, and of course, exciting, super violent of over stylised at times. The slow motion effects of the designer drug aren't the greatest, and getting tiring very quickly. Happily, they all but disappear after the first act. The script is lean, which means there isn't much for the story to trip over. They keep things simple, and focus instead on doing those things well. It subverts most of the standard tropes these action movies usually fall into (especially when it comes to Anderson, who is never a damsel in distress, even she she seems to be). In a year that saw the over inflation of Batman, and the over extension of Spider-man, Dredd comfortably leaves them both behind, proving that you can tell a big story, and make a good film for very little. So long as the ideas behind the story never get in the way, and that characters are treated with care, things will work out in the end.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


  1. Urban obviously loves this character and does a nice job at portraying Dredd as nothing more than one sadistic, SOB. Good review Clark.