CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: DREDD (2012)
By Michael Arruda
(The Scene: The skyline of a futuristic city. Camera focuses on a mega high-rise skyscraper that towers above the rest of the metropolis, and then closes in towards an upper balcony continuing through an open window into a room where MICHAEL ARRUDA and JUDGE DREDD sit in front of a 60-inch high definition TV screen.)
MICHAEL ARRUDA: Welcome everybody to another edition of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT. L.L. SOARES is off on another assignment, but I’m joined today by the famous JUDGE DREDD.
We’re going to play a game. We’re going to watch some movie clips, and JUDGE DREDD here, as judge, jury, and executioner, will pass judgment on the movies. This should be fun. Okay. Roll film.
[A clip plays of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)]
MA: So, judge, what do you think? Pass or fail?
MA: You have good taste. Okay, on to the next clip. [The screen shows a scene from RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION (2012). MA cringes.]
DREDD: Fail. There’s no story.
MA: You’re good at this. [Screen now shows a clip from one of the TWILIGHT movies.]
MA: Right on! You know your movies!
(DREDD aims large gun at screen and opens fire, obliterating the TV in a fiery explosion of glass and electronic components.)
MA: My sentiments exactly! (Crew runs in and begins cleaning up decimated TV.) This could prove to be a very expensive game. While they’re cleaning up, why don’t you help yourself to some refreshments and I’ll go ahead and review today’s movie.
MA: Three? Oh, you can help yourself to as many snacks and goodies as you want. You don’t have to limit yourself.
MA: Three knives? What? Are you reviewing your own movie? Shh. We don’t get to that part until the end of the review.
DREDD: Just sayin. (Exits)
MA: Today I’m reviewing DREDD (2012) the new 3D film version of the famous British comic strip character who first appeared on the comic book scene in the late 1970s.
And while this certainly isn’t the best movie I’ve seen this year, I will say at the outset that DREDD showed more imagination in its first five minutes than last week’s clunker RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION displayed in its entirety.
DREDD takes place in a futuristic America, in a northeast city somewhere between Boston and Washington D.C. Crime is rampant, and to enforce the law, the country has employed judges, officers who serve as judge, jury, and executioner and who work for the Hall of Justice.
The film gets off to a quick start. Within its opening moments, Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) finds himself in high speed pursuit of a group of criminals. It’s an exciting scene that serves as a fun introduction to the Judge Dredd character.
Later, Dredd is asked to break in a new partner, a woman named Anderson (Olivia Thirlby). Sure, we’ve seen this plot before—it’s right out of every DIRTY HARRY movie. In fact, Urban sounds an awful lot like Clint Eastwood’s Harry throughout this film. So yes, there are parts of this movie that are not original, but the film doesn’t suffer for it, because it’s high entertainment from beginning to end, with a fun story that is compelling from the get-go.
(DIRTY HARRY enters room.)
HARRY: Make my day, punk. (opens fire with his magnum and blows away one of the clean-up crew, who crashes through a window and plunges to his death to the street below.)
MA (shaking his head): That’s not going to help with the clean-up.
HARRY: What do you know? I’m cleaning up the streets. That scum was a drug dealer.
MA (looks out shattered window): Well, the street’s kind of a mess now.
HARRY (scowls at MA.): A man’s got to know his limitations.
MA: True. (points to street below) That guy should have known he couldn’t survive a 200 story drop with a bullet in his chest. He should have never been up here.
HARRY: I was talking about you.
MA: Oh. I see. (looks at camera and mouths:) He’s crazy. (addressing HARRY) Well, thank you Officer Callahan for helping us out today. Help yourself to some refreshments on your way out.
MA: Okay, let’s get back to today’s movie.
Anderson failed her initial test to become a Judge, but Dredd’s superior wants her to have a second chance because she has exceptional psychic abilities which they believe will be a huge asset to the department. Anyway, it’ll be up to Dredd to decide whether or not she passes or fails.
In the high rise slum known as Peach Trees, the former prostitute now turned drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) has three men skinned alive and their bodies displayed in public to send a message that no one should mess with her. Dredd and Anderson are sent in to investigate, and when they capture and arrest one of the men responsible for the killing, Ma-Ma and her army respond by hacking into the Hall of Justice’s computer system, enabling them to lock down the high rise. Sturdy steel barriers close off all the exits, trapping Dredd and Anderson inside. Ma-Ma then orders everyone who has a gun to find and execute the judges.
Dredd and Anderson are seemingly trapped in a no-win situation, which makes their plight all the more exciting as they fight back, hoping they can hold off their potential assassins until help arrives from the outside.
I liked DREDD a lot. It’s an imaginative, creative thrill ride that has a lot of good things going for it.
First off, I really enjoyed the script by Alex Garland, which of course is based on the comic strip by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra. It’s got an exciting plot and lots of clever lines interspersed throughout. At one point Dredd tells Anderson that she forgot to wear her helmet, and she replies that a helmet interferes with her psychic abilities, to which Anderson says “I think a bullet would interfere with them more.”
I liked the premise of Dredd and Anderson being locked inside the building while Ma-Ma’s thugs and every other vigilante living inside the slum try to kill them. After watching the awful RESIDENT EVIL 5 last week, it was fun to watch a movie with a plot that presented a genuine conflict and actually told a story! How about that!
(In the background, the clean-up crew is putting up a new wide screen TV.)
Karl Urban is fine as Dredd, but truth be told, I enjoyed him more as Bones in STAR TREK (2009) and as Black Hat in PRIEST (2011). In those movies, he was able to act more, while here as Dredd, he’s one-dimensional, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it works for this character, and Urban is very good at it.
Really, the character of Dredd here is a lot like the recent Christian Bale performances as Batman. He wears a mask, or in this case, a helmet— either way, we never see his face, which is the way it was in the comic— and he speaks with the same monotone dry raspy voice. I was waiting for him to say “I’m Batman,” at some point.
(BATMAN crashes through window, knocking a new wide-screen TV from the wall, which shatters as it hits the floor. The repair crew moans and groans.)
BATMAN: I’m Batman. (approaches MA) Where’s Bane?
MA: Bane? I have no flippin clue where that ape is, but Dirty Harry and Judge Dredd are in the next room having some snacks. Why don’t you join them?
BATMAN: Sure. (Exits.)
MA: I’ll have to make sure we take a group photo.
Back to DREDD, I mentioned Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry before, and Dredd actually reminded me even more of Harry than Batman. Again, neither of these comparisons are bad things. I like the Dredd character a lot, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’ve sure seen this type of hero before.
Olivia Thirlby is also excellent as Anderson. At first, Anderson is tentative, unsure of whether or not she’s cut out for the job, although she does want to make a difference, but as the movie goes on she kicks it into high gear and becomes a force to be reckoned with. There’s a great scene where she enters one of their prisoner’s mind to extract information, and it really shows off what Anderson can do.
And Lena Headey more than holds her own as the brutal villain Ma-Ma. She is one lethal woman, and she makes for quite the adversary for Dredd and Anderson. She’s one of the better female villains I’ve seen in a while. She’s on par with Salma Hayek’s Elena from SAVAGES (2012) earlier this year, but whereas Hayek’s Elena was more of the high class villainess, Headey’s Ma-Ma is definitely of the blue-collar variety, as potentially dangerous with her fists as with her words. She’s also more visceral. In one scene (albeit in quick flashback) she gouges out a man’s eyes. Ouch! She also does much worse with another part of the male anatomy. Double ouch!
Headley played Sarah Connor in the TV show TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES (2008-2009).
(The TERMINATOR crashes through a solid wall, demolishing yet another wide screen TV, prompting members of the clean-up crew to shout and stomp.)
TERMINATOR: Sarah Connor?
MA: No, but Batman, Dirty Harry, and Judge Dredd are all next door at the snack bar. Why don’t you join them?
TERMINATOR: I’ll be back. (EXITS)
MA: How did I know he was going to say that?
Speaking of these violent scenes, DREDD is relatively violent and earns its R rating in a comic book way. There’s lots of brutality and bloodshed, but most of it is of the CGI variety and about as realistic looking as a video game, but since this one is based on a comic, the style works.
I saw it in 3D, and once again, it’s the same old story. The 3D effects added very little to the movie, and after a while you don’t even notice the film is in 3D.
Pete Travis directed DREDD, and he includes lots of neat action sequences. The opening chase scene, in which Dredd pursues a van full of criminals, is thrilling and is a great way to start the movie. Most of the scenes inside the locked-down building are intense and satisfying. There wasn’t much in DREDD that I found disappointing.
That being said, I was a little disappointed with the ending, as I thought the confrontation between Dredd and Ma-Ma at the film’s conclusion was nowhere near as intense as it should have been. But it’s not enough to ruin the movie by any means.
I also liked the look of the movie. Its futuristic landscape was less like the colorful world of the RESIDENT EVIL movies and more like the gritty realistic cityscape seen in DISTRICT 9 (2009).
Director Travis also directed the thriller VANTAGE POINT (2008), and I liked DREDD much better than VANTAGE POINT.
And no, this is not a remake of the 1995 Sylvester Stallone movie JUDGE DREDD. I didn’t see that movie because the way I remember it, word of mouth about it was so bad so quickly that I didn’t bother, and for that reason I was never interested in checking it out. It’s generally considered to be an awful movie, and Dredd purists were angry that Stallone took off his helmet in the film to show his face, which is a no-no in the Dredd comics world, and since Karl Urban keeps his helmet on throughout this new movie, for this reason alone DREDD is already better than the Stallone film.
(ROCKY music starts blaring, and this time the repair crew rips the TV off the wall themselves and stomp on it, smashing it to smithereens. ROCKY enters the room.
ROCKY (looking at men smashing TV): What’s the matter with them?
MA: They’ve had a long day.
ROCKY: That’s a nice TV. Yo, have you seen Mickey, my trainer?
MA: No, but if you go next door, you’ll find the Terminator, Batman, Dirty Harry, and Judge Dredd all at the snack bar.
ROCKY: All those guys? Those guys are all really cool. I’d like to meet them. I wouldn’t know what to say, but it would be fun, and maybe I’d grab myself a cookie or something, you know?
MA: Through that door.
(ROCKY exits, and we hear his trainer MICKEY’s voice.)
MICKEY: Get your goddamn hands off that cookie, Rock! You’re in training!
ROCKY: Yo Mick, say hi to Batman.
MA: I give DREDD three knives. And since my special guest Judge Dredd also gave the movie three knives, we’re in agreement.
(Glass suddenly shatters as a thug crashes through window. He throws three knives at MA which somehow miss him. JUDGE DREDD bursts into room and shoots the thug dead. DREDD turns to MA and points to the knives now sticking in the wall behind him.)
DREDD: Three knives.
MA: So that’s what you meant! I thought—well, never mind. Thanks! I don’t know how you knew that, but I’m glad you did!
DREDD: Don’t mention it. (Turns and exits).
MA: Well, that’s it for today folks. If you like your comic book action dark, then be sure to check out DREDD. It’s as satisfying as the snacks we have next door. Speaking of which, it’s time for that group photo.
Thanks for joining us!
MA (off-camera): Guys, you were supposed to eat the snacks, not throw them at each other! Jeesh!
© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda
Michael Arruda gives DREDD ~ three knives!