There was a time that I thought that no movie based on a comic book could be better than The Dark Knight. But then, this past summer, I saw The Avengers, and I had a new faith in comic book adaptations. I hoped to be wowed yet again only a couple of months later with The Dark Knight Rises, but it turns out I couldn’t really stand that movie, and it looked like Marvel had overtaken DC with the best comic book movie ever. But then, a flick that no one even bothered to see—and a reimagining, at that—came out a few months later that made me change my mind yet again. And that movie is Dredd. All hail the new king of comic book cinema!
Dredd is the greatest comic book movie I’ve ever seen. Here’s why: Judge Joseph Dredd is just an ordinary man who stands by his principles, and that’s it. He doesn’t have a bazillion dollars and a utility belt like Batman. He doesn’t have superpowers or a suit of mechanized death like Iron Man. He doesn’t have anything but his adherence to the law. So much so that when he says, “Ma-Ma’s not the law. I am the law,” in this picture, you believe it, and you can see that his soon-to-be-victims believe it, too. The audience, just like the criminals, is left with a man who, against all odds, stands against the scum and takes back the streets, if only in just one area of a crime-ridden city. He’s like Travis Bickel or Dirty Harry, but set in a fantasy world of intense crime and violence filled with a new street drug called Slo-Mo. What’s not to love?
Well, apparently a lot, since nobody bothered to see this movie back when it hit theaters. I think a big reason for that is because of the stain the original Judge Dredd left on the name of the character. Being one in probably only ten people who liked the original movie though, I can mildly understand. Most people don’t fully understand that the Judge Dredd from the first movie is not the same Dredd that Karl Urban is portraying, here. This Dredd is much closer to the character in the British comic 2000 A.D., and since Judge Dredd isn’t a household name like Batman or Superman, most folks don’t know how great an ultraviolent picture could be with a very serious Dredd in it, which is what Dredd is. In fact, it’s probably the most badass comic book adaptation ever made. If you like gritty films with morally ambiguous protagonists, then you need to see this movie. It’s one of the best.
The primary reason for its greatness is Karl Urban’s portrayal of Dredd, which is spot on. He plays Dredd gruffly throughout the entire film. He has no character growth whatsoever, much like Dredd in the comics. And instead, it’s the world around him that changes because he’s in it, which is a unique approach to storytelling, but one that pays off big time in this film. His rookie sidekick, Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), also changes, making for an interesting team dynamic. The law is unflinching, and as established earlier, Dredd is the law.
The setting primarily takes place in a single building located in Mega City One called Peace Trees, which is another key to this film’s success—it stays grounded. Dredd’s fight to the top of the building is a scenario that was also used effectively in last year’s The Raid: Redemption, but I think it’s more effective here, and surprisingly, more realistic (Come on, you’re going to tell me that everybody in that building knew martial arts in The Raid?). With Slo-Mo, on the streets, Dredd is sent to investigate some murders and finds that the main source of the drug is in Peach Trees. He finds the drug runner to be a ruthless boss called, “Ma-Ma” (Lena Headey). It’s refreshing to have a female antagonist.
I don’t have a single complaint with this film, other than the fact the humor found within the comic is all but absent in the film. That said, the pacing is great, the acting is phenomenal, and the slow-motion special effects are beautiful and stylistic. See this picture now, and give Dredd the audience that it’s deserved all along.
The special features in Dredd are many, but most are very short. “Mega-City Masters: 35 Years of Judge Dredd” featurette is one of the longer extras. It features the creators of the comic and subsequent artists and writers discussing the history of Dredd. If you know nothing about the character, than this is a good place to start. “Day of Chaos: The Visual Effects of Dredd 3D” featurette is an interesting look at the 3D effects that went into the film, and also the limited computer effects. The film was shot in Cape Town, Johannesburg and very few added effects were even put into the film digitally. It’s kind of sad to see that only a few buildings needed to be included to make parts of Johannesburg look like a post-Apocalyptic wasteland.
Those are the longer features. The rest are much shorter. There’s a “Dredd” featurette that actually features Karl Urban talking about the character, but that segment is only a couple of minutes long. Another short segment is the “Dredd’s Gear” featurette that talks about his outfit in the film. “The 3rd Dimension” featurette goes into detail about how cumbersome the technology could be, so they had to build new cameras. It’s fascinating stuff. “Welcome to Peach Trees” goes into the primary location of the film. Finally, besides the trailer, there’s the “Dredd Motion Comic Prequel.” It goes into the character of Ma-Ma, but the movie fully describes her history anyway, so it’s a nice feature, but it’s totally unnecessary.
Overall, the special features are good, but some are too short and I really missed a commentary track. Honestly, I can’t get enough of Dredd. This disc is lacking a bit, but as a whole, it’s excellent. Pick it up.