Director: Pete Travis. Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Domhnall Gleeson. USA, 2012. Budget: $45 million. IMDb: 7.1. RT: 78%. My rating: 3.5/4. Gritty dystopian cyberpunk at its finest.
– Negotiation’s over. Sentence is death.
– I was wondering when you’d remember you forgot your helmet.
– Sir, a helmet can interfere with my psychic abilities.
– Think a bullet in the head might interfere with them more.
(a dialogue between Dredd and the rookie Judge Anderson)
– I am the law.
It’s not like I’m keen on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes ratings… but how often does it actually happen that a reboot of a non-Marvel/DC superhero movie has 78% RT and 7.1 IMDb, outgunning by all means the so-bad-that-it’s-good 1995 version?
You’re right – almost never. “Dredd” is probably the only decent superhero sci-fi flick released since Marvel/DC brainstormed (brainwashed?) the world. It seems though that nobody noticed that (myself included, till yesterday).
So, dear Dredd, welcome to the modest company of “Watchmen”, “V for Vendetta”, “Hellboy”, “Sin City”, “Wanted” and “Constantine”. That’s how many (how little?) gritty big budget superhero flicks we actually had this century, not related to Marvel/DC. Maybe you made it only from the second try, Dredd, but who cares. Welcome.
If we step up a little bit, we can add “Edge of Tomorrow” as well (Cruise, as always, had superpowers there) and “Pitch Black” (but just the first installment, I beg you).
From the sake of justice, lets point out few things:
– 7 out of 9 films on this list are R rated (I do believe in coincidence, I really do)
– “Dredd” is the newest here and has the smallest budget – $40 mln. The 1995 Dredd – $90 million (gosh, who gave them that money?…). “Pitch Black” with its $23 mln doesn’t count – I knew Twohy made it just to turn a great standalone story in a pitiful franchise.
– “Dredd” and “Guyver: Dark Hero” are the only superhero movies ever that were sequels to lousy originals and completely outgunned them (among non Marvel/DC production)
– “Dredd” is probably the only awesome big budget superhero movie made since the Marvel/DC Universe captured the world.
What does all this entertaining statistics mean? Well, the original sci-fi film production may not be dead yet, but is surely slowly heading to its deathbed. Especially the superhero stuff. The system is pretty clear now – Marvel/DC work for the big audience, one time in few years someone will take risks and produce something for the adults, usually with lots of goooooore and more mature psychological approach..
Three kind of stories dominate nowadays big budget sci-fi – YA movies, Marvel/DC stuff and sequels/reboots. That’s why I have a thing for the 80-s/90-s – it was the time when sci-fi got big, cool and often nerdy (or trashy, like the original Dredd). As a result, the independent sci-fi films are filmed now more than ever, with an impressing improvement in quality too, but that’s a different story. Lets come back to “Dredd”.
The production. The main re-style idea came from Alex Garland and we know that almost everything this guy touches turns gold (director of “Ex Machina”, writer of “28 Days Later” and “Sunshine”). Garland said he planned three stories about Dredd, but given a modest box office of the first part (about $41.5 million), the future remains uncertain. The film had unexpectedly incredible home media sales though. The producers said that in case box office reaches $50 mln, the sequel would be likely to happen. After that, “Dredd” reached #1 in DVD/Blu-ray sales, selling about $10 million. Wow! What a devoted fan base. Karl Urban repeatedly stated since its release that he’d be happy to come back to the judge’s uniform too.
“Dredd” was shot in South Africa between Cape Town and Johannesburg. “The producers chose to film in South Africa because of the lowered cost of employing cast and crew compared to locations in Europe and North America, and government incentives that offered to rebate up to 25% of the production costs”, says Time. That’s cool. I wish all governments were that smart.
The reception of the movie was good in the places… where it actually happened. Because the film strangely had a very limited release. The trailer was awful too. Urban himself said that the marketing and promotion of the film were a complete failure.
The plot. The storyline of the new “Dredd” is absolutely different from the 1995 version (where Dredd was unfairly accused and arrested, later seeking truth and vengeance), but the setting is the same, of course. Let me quote Dredd itself. ”America is an irradiated wasteland. Within it lies a city. Outside the boundary walls, a desert. A cursed earth. Inside the walls, a cursed city, stretching from Boston to Washington D.C. An unbroken concrete landscape. 800 million people living in the ruin of the old world and the mega structures of the new one. Mega blocks. Mega highways. Mega City One. Convulsing. Choking. Breaking under its own weight. Citizens in fear of the street. The gun. The gang. Only one thing fighting for order in the chaos: the men and women of the Hall of Justice. Juries. Executioners. Judges.”
The crime is rampant. In order to suppress it, a new kind of law system was introduced – the cops now are both jury, police and executioner. They are called judges. Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is one of the most effective and devoted of them, and today he is testing a rookie (Olivia Thirlby), who has some special telepathic abilities. Meanwhile a new Slo-Mo drug seems to expanding through the city, thanks to the violent mafia boss Ma-Ma (Lena Headey).
What I liked. The atmosphere. Holy fuck! It’s just incredible. I felt like a 12 year old boy, watching this movie (and not only me). All things are in right place here. Yes, it’s a dystopia, violence, thousands of people living in one block and we never really know what happened to Earth. The movie doesn’t pretend to be everything at the same time. It concentrates on just one story, keeping things on relatively small scale – but thanks to this, all the details are so elaborated, starting from the Dredd’s suit (remember Stallone’s ridiculous baseball-like tight suit, clearly showing his ass?).
The streets and the society here are portrayed really well and everything seems realistic, like it could really happen. The slums, the crime, the blocks, the poverty. The designs of buildings, guns, suits, bikes are very cool and make sense.
The R rating is used well too – and I’m not always a fan of it. The violence here is just a part of the dystopian world. The firefights are shot very well. In ”Logan”, for example, I sometimes felt there was too much head cutting just for the sake of it. But not in ”Dredd”. It’s also because Dredd himself never feels like a superhero, and neither does Anderson, the rookie. He has guns, training, experience and power, but he feels vulnerable. It reminded me of ”Watchmen”, where the superheroes were mostly normal people who decided that their destiny was to protect the world. So did Dredd and other judges.
The visual style deserves appraisal too. How long has it been since we’ve been introduced to the slowmo effect, loved it, hated it, get bored by it? While it has always been used to a certain extent, ”The Matrix” made it extremely popular, then it was overused in lots of movies of variable quality everywhere it could’ve been put. ”300” was probably one of few movies when it was jaw-dropping again. And now – ”Dredd”. What’s curious, the slowmo scenes here are organic part of the plot, as it is the effect of the drug of the same name.
Big part of the credit must surely go Anthony Dod Mantle, who did the photography (”28 Days Later”, ”Slumdog Millionaire”, ”Dogville”, ”Antichrist”, ”127 Hours”). He’ll continue to amaze you during the view – the shots and angles are creative and create a gorgeous eye candy. In certain moments the photography made you feel like watching almost an art-house movie.
The acting. It’s unexpectedly brilliant. Karl Urban (”Star Trek”, ”RED”, ”The Lord of the Rings”) never takes out his helmet, creating his character with body gestures, voice and Dredd’s famous grin. Mostly he is balancing between gloomy and solemn, just occasionally falling into a deadpan humour. Urban surely found the right tone for the role. He isn’t a tragic character, but he doesn’t feel neither like an indestructible comics superhero too, compared to Stallone’s version (that was a reminiscence of Joel Schumaher’s laughable Batman versions). Urban’s Dredd is machine-like, without all this ridiculous stuff about hidden brothers etc. He knows what he must do and does it. He is the law.
If Dredd’s characters is not over-humanized, then someone else has to take this role, and here steps in Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a future judge. Her character has special telepathic abilities, and she feels enough anger and empathy for other people, entering directly in their minds and being able to crack or influence them. Wonderful role, devoid of any cliches one could expect as a Dredd’s sidekick.
Domhnall Gleeson (son of Brandon Gleeson) is impressive too as a neurotic computer freak threatened by the mafia. Recently he did a whole array of cool roles – ”Ex Machina”, ”Frank”, ”The Revenant”, ”Calvary” and ”Star Wars: The Force Awakens”. He seems to be a truly talented actor, capable of creating weird and wry characters.
The soundtrack. Paul Leonard Morgan (”Limitless”) created a raw an gritty soundtrack, based on aggressive synth tones that perfectly match the ongoing rampage. Pure joy for the ears.
What I didn’t like. While almost everything in Mega-City One felt coherent and real, there’s been one thing that kept on bothering me during the viewing. It’s the character played by Lena Headey, Ma-Ma. While Headey is a good actress (”300”, ”Game of Thrones”), I felt like her character her was a little two-dimensional. Headey portrayed a classic villain, but lacked depth and credibility. She didn’t feel smart or inventive enough like Ledger’s Jocker. In a world based on power and strength, how such a fragile girl managed to govern the whole block and the gangs? It’s not the fault of her acting in itself, but rather the of script.
The film has been compared to another film released at the same time – a brutal Indonesian action hit ”The Raid”. Both movies bear some similarity – the characters end locked up in a tower block and need to fight their way out. Not really a criticism, but I wish though Dredd had more time to explore its universe too.
Worth watching? Oh yeah. New ”Dredd” over-delivers in everything – incredible visuals and cool use of slowmo, dreadful atmosphere, gritty characters, perfect cast with powerful performance, violence and justice. It’s a rare, almost extinct breed of movies – almost a B-movie, almost an indie film if you compare the budget of its competitors.
We can only dream of more superhero flicks like that, because ”Dredd” is by no means an average teen superhero movie. And thanks to an incredible photography, the film feels mature and is a gorgeous eye candy. ”Dredd” is everything movies like ”Suicide Squad” wanted to be. There’s little hope, but now lets pray for the sequel.
P. S. Don’t watch the trailer. It’s bad and doesn’t really express the spirit of the movie.