I know it’s an unpopular opinion, but I really didn’t hate the ’95 version of Judge Dredd with Sylvester Stallone and Armand Assante. Probably because I was completely unfamilar with the source material and was having an Armand Assante fascination at the time. Maybe a second viewing would change my mind!
My sources inform me that the 2012 version is MUCH closer to the source material. I have to say I thought it was a pretty awesome movie with some great performances from some pretty heavily talented actors. It felt like the original Robocop to me, and that’s staying something. (I haven’t seen the newest Robocop, so I don’t know how Robocoppy it is).
Hats off to Karl Urban for turning in a solid performance without ever even showing his eyes. Apparently he wanted to stay true to the source material and stipulated in his contract that the character would NEVER show his face, as in the comics. There’s a moment in the very beginning when he is suiting up and his face is in shadow, which was a brilliant decision: he’s a faceless man-shape, he could be anyone. As Bane from the most recent Dark Knight movie says, the world didn’t care who he was before he put on the mask. So it is with Dredd; we don’t care who he is when he’s not Judge Dredd – and kudos to the filmmakers for not making another origin story. It was also a smart filmmaking choice from another perspective: Dredd, being the title character, should be the protagonist, but he isn’t really, which I will explain below.
After a beginning voiceover where the rules of Mega-City 1 are established, we’re introduced to Dredd right off the bat – some bad guys in a stolen car are causing some mayhem, and Dredd on a giant motorcycle rides them down and establishes ‘justice’ in the MC-1 style – blowing their faces out the back of their heads with his Lawgiver handheld armory. Urban did his own driving stunts, so that’s another point in his favor. After dispensing some justice and ordering meatwagons to clean up all that spattered justice, he heads back to headquarters.
Anderson, whose first name is never given (another shrewd choice) and who Dredd only refers to as “Rookie” is a new recruit that Dredd is taking out for her final assessment. She failed certain parts of the first test, but since she has psychic abilities (she’s a mutant) it’s thought she might succeed in other areas. Her character arc is central to the storyline, but since her name isn’t on the poster in a huge badass font, we’re not sure if she’s going to make it or not. We’ve seen how ugly MC-1 is, and now this adorable fluffy-haired kitten is heading out into the thick of it – and that’s the other shrewd filmmaking choice. Having the tough hombre break in the new meat is certainly not the most original plot device, (My first thought is Hellboy, and there are totally others) but I’d rather see something familiar that works than something new that doesn’t.
I’m not familiar with Dredd from the comics, so I am not interested in seeing his emotional development and/or formative events in his life that made him who he is. I want to see him use a huge gun and chew scenery and spout badass lines and blow some shit up real good, and by the beard of Zeus this movie DELIVERED.
Lena Headey, best known as Cersei Lannister from HBO’s Game of Thrones, puts in an awesome performance as Madaleine “MaMa” Madrigal, a former whore turned clan leader. MaMa runs the most badass crew in the city in the high-rise of Peachtrees, and her interests include skinning people who piss her off, doing the mind-altering drug Slo-mo, dispensing Slo-Mo, and chewing off her former pimp’s genitals. With a wicked facial scar and some majorly punkish hair, she looks like she woke up from the world’s shittiest and most violent nap. She’s one of my all-time favorite villains.
Headey had this to say about her character: “I think of [Ma-Ma] like an old great white shark who is just waiting for someone bigger and stronger to show up and kill her … she’s ready for it. In fact, she can’t wait for it to happen … She’s an addict, so she’s dead in that way, but that last knock just hasn’t come.” That’s a hell of a character perspective. I love it.
An actor who was cast but cruelly underused was the awesome Wood Harris, who played the legendary Avon Barksdale on The Wire. Ma-Ma’s second in command, he plays the basic gang psycho, and in a few scenes he doesn’t even have any lines. On the one hand, plum role in a big-budget movie with a lot of facetime, on the other, he doesn’t get a whole lot to do. However, as a great actor with a commanding presence he plays the part of the menacing heavy VERY well.
Domhnall Gleeson (Got his first name right on the first try!) is almost unrecognizable as a sort of…albinoish guy who had his eyes ripped out by Ma-Ma and replaced with digital implants, and acts as the clan’s tech expert.
Clan Techie is not a criminal, but rather someone who Ma-Ma found to be of use to her, and so she uses him. Cruelly. He lives in fear of her, as do all the people of Peachtrees, and acts as an unwilling participant in her war on Dredd and Anderson.
I like characters like this. He’s a walking example of the ‘People aren’t against you, they’re for themselves” idea. He has no personal problem with Dredd, and is just trying to stay alive, which Anderson understands.
The last thing I have to say about Dredd is the absolutely awesome way they showed the effects of Slo-Mo. A drug that slows your perception down until every second seems interminable, every color and light as vibrant as a disco party at Liberace’s house. It’s gorgeous.
There are some scenes of graphic violence that happen during Slo-Mo sequences, and the carnage is elevated to beauty by the effects. It’s probably one of my favorite drug effects in a movie, and I can’t imagine what it must have been like in 3-D, which is how the film was originally released.
If you’re a fan of 80’s-style dystopian violence, Dredd might be your new favorite movie.
Dredd is available on Instant Watch.
14 thoughts on “New Cult Classics: Dredd (2012)”
Gah, I don’t have time to leave a proper response, but I’ll be back. I love the Karl Urban Dredd version, and I want to chat about it with love!
Thanks for posting this. I’ll be back.
We’re solidly of the same opinion on how great Urban was as faceless, remorseless Dredd. In some ways it’s Psi-Judge Anderson’s origin story, and as a reader of the comics, Psi-Judge Anderson + Dredd have always been the best stories.
The movie looked great. It looked like they had actually built a giant mega-city-block-skyscraper to shoot in.
I don’t necessarily hate the Stallone version, it did have some merit, but this movie captured the spirit of a straightforward Dredd story. It looked gritty and realistic, and not cartoony.
I understand if people are turned off by violence, but there was such an artistry to the combat and bloodshed in the film, it somehow transcended.
I’m sorry it didn’t do well in the theaters here, but I was so happy to get my copy on DVD for Christmas.
Thanks again for posting this.
Ha ha, thanks! This is easily one of my favorite new movies, period. I feel like it’s this generation’s Robocop!
I think Karl Urban is great whatever he’s doing, I’ve never seen him make a bad choice with a movie. I mean Pathfinder was weird but still LOADS of fun, especially the whole ‘Vikings as monsters’ thing. And Clancy Brown as the big bad in a horned helmet? That just made the whole thing.
Totally agree about the way violence was depicted – and it still managed to NOT glorify it, which is a pretty epic accomplishment. At no point did I want to see more of it, and yet it was gorgeous to see onscreen and I couldn’t look away. Ma-Ma as a villain was compelling without being charming in that way villains sometimes are, but she didn’t feel underwritten either.
Can you recommend a place to start reading Dredd? I’d really like to check them out now, especially what you were saying about Anderson and Dredd stories.
One of the classics is Judge Dredd vs. Judge Death, Psi-Judge Anderson features prominently. You can find Dredd collections which are reprints of the original stories from 2000 AD, the British magazine Dredd was featured in.
I’m also a fan of anything involving the Angel gang (Mean Machine Angel!)
I admit to not owning much Dredd myself, back in college I’d read everything my buddy Jim had, but somewhere in my house I have the Judge Dredd Role Playing game, which a wealth of backstory, details, and art from the comics.
I loved this movie. It’s also one of very few original non-Marvel/DC sci-fi comics superhero movies that have been released since, well… Watchmen? It’s actually a rare breed of a film now. Compared to the 90-s…
Indeed! It is in a class all its own as far as comic adaptations go.
Yep, in fact before writing the review for ‘Dredd’ I counted how many original non Marvel/DC superhero movies we had this century… Wanna guess? 🙂
How many? 😀
9. 7 of them were R rated.
By the way, you right about slo-mo. I think the last time it impressed that much was with “300”.
It’s just done so beautifully, and most importantly – makes SENSE. The viewer gets so drawn in by the beauty that it’s easy to see why people get hooked on it – especially given the grim reality they live in. Peachtrees is no one’s idea of a vacation, but the Slo-Mo world looks like something from Jean-Pierre Jeunet in terms of the lighting and color. Magnificent!
And thanks for dropping by! Nice to meet you! 😀
Absolutely well noted. Nice to meet you too!