Starring Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Wood Harris, Lena Headey, Domhnall Gleeson, Warrick Grier, Deobia Oparei, Langley Kirkwood, Edwin Perry, Karl Thaning, Michele Levin, Francis Chouler, Daniel Hadebe, Rakie Ayola
Directed by Pete Travis
Expectations: Moderate. Heard good things.
Judge Dredd and Dredd open rather similarly — with overviews of the current state of the world coming to us via narration — but the two films are almost incomparable. One is a loud, bombastic, over-the-top Hollywood B-Movie, and the other is a low-budget, gritty attempt to plausibly bring the character to life. They are both successful at being what they strive to be, but Dredd is clearly the better film overall. It definitely has its issues, but this is an overwhelmingly good movie for action movie fans.
Comparisons between Dredd and The Raid have been discussed since the former was released, but I actually think that likening this film to The Raid does it a disservice. Sure, the plots are almost identical and even some small moments are eerily similar, but there’s one fundamental difference between the two films that should be known going in (besides the fact that Dredd kicks off in classic buddy cop fashion). The Raid is a non-stop action movie, with almost zero down time. Dredd is more of a tense, bloody thriller. It has a lot of action, but they’re closer to bursts of action than full-on action sequences.
This might sound like a slight on Dredd, but it actually helped me enjoy the film a lot more than I would have if it were closer to The Raid. By having completely different tones and genres, the two films are both similar and different. Dredd is also a lot more colorful and flashy, while still retaining a muted, somber, future dystopia tone. It’s an admirable production, for sure, made all the more impressive by the slim-by-Hollywood-standards $45 million budget. That being said, there are times when this really feels low-budget, and it’s surprising that with as much as $45 million at their disposal it still looks somewhat janky at times. But these are minor complaints, as the filmmakers have skillfully crafted an illusion of a doomed future that reminds in ways of District 9, perfect in its degradation and filth and scope.
The visuals reach their most artistic when the action goes into slow motion. Instead of simple in-camera slow motion, Dredd‘s slo-mo sequences are super, super slow, and the color palette is saturated, radiant and iridescent to give the audience the feel of using hallucinogens. I’ve read that much of the slo-mo work was done with practical FX like squibs and shooting compressed air at people’s flesh to get it to ripple, but because of heightened nature to the visuals most of the shots look digital and fake. But for once that isn’t a bad thing, as these shots are always gorgeous and fascinating. I didn’t care how they did it because it looked fantastic, so to learn that a lot of it was practical only made me like the shots even more. The color saturation extends to the entire film, too, giving many scenes a “comic book panel come to life” feel that totally works.
Dredd feels like a low-budget Hollywood film, but it’s so skillfully put together that most people probably won’t notice. It feels in places like what a lower budget Batman film could be like, and it actually made me wish that the next Batman film would take this kind of route. It never will, of course, but I think it could work beautifully. They could even use this same storyline too, with Batman standing in for Dredd and Robin for Anderson. I’d be perfectly fine with that, or any other films that want to take The Raid‘s formula and try their hand with it. It’s a fun, video game style plot that could be to this generation what jungle warfare against Colombian drug lords was for the ’80s.
Dredd is a great modern action film, and I would love to see these guys get a shot at making a sequel. Karl Urban owns the role, but I still think Stallone’s crooked mouth looked better under the helmet. To each their own. But which film is better? Depends on what you want out of your action movie, but my money’s on Dredd. Woulda liked to see some robots in this one, though.
And with that…Sorry, there weren’t really any cheesy one-liners in this one, so I had to close out with one from the first movie.