It's understandable if your reaction to the news that a new Judge Dredd movie was coming out would be "Why?" followed by "Wait... who?" After all, it's not like most stateside audiences have been readily exposed the titular futuristic lawman/executioner, who has been a star on the British comics scene since his introduction in 1977. And practically nobody remembers Hollywood's first attempt to turn the comic into a cross-platform property, the 1995 flop Judge Dredd, which paired a scowling Sylvester Stallone with a hyperactive Rob Schneider. With all that apathy working against it, this franchise reboot -- simply titled Dredd -- seems doomed from the get-go, a movie that a majority of moviegoers neither demanded nor needed.
Having seen Dredd, I'm still not sure it's needed, but it's sure closer to the kind of movie this character demands. Essentially a grindhouse movie dressed up in comic-book clothing, Dredd plops its anti-hero (now played by the appropriately grizzled Karl Urban who, unlike Stallone, keeps Dredd's iconic helmet on for the duration of the film) and his rookie sidekick Cassandra (Olivia Thirlby) down in a 22nd century high-rise and pits them against an army of thugs led by vicious drug kingpin Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) currently peddling a narcotic that makes time itself seem to stand still. Cut off from their command center with limited ammo and no back-up rushing to their rescue, Dredd and Cassandra must battle their way from the lobby two hundred stories up to Ma-Ma's penthouse lair. The judges -- so called because they have the authority to capture, interrogate and, if necessary exterminate criminals upon catching them -- have little say, but plenty of punishment to dish out, sending henchman after henchman to a grisly grave. Cartoonishly brutal and highly derivative, this is the cinematic equivalent of empty calories: completely lacking any nutritional benefit, but enjoyable to consume. Here are five reasons why you don't have to dread seeing this new Dredd.
1. It's Ruthlessly Efficient
One of the major flaws of Judge Dredd was a needlessly convoluted story that had Dredd being framed for a crime he didn't commit and then sentenced to exile, before making it back in time to halt a grand assassination plot. Dredd, which was written by novelist-turned-screenwriter Alex Garland, keeps it simple: two cops versus a shit ton of bad guys in a single location over a roughly 24-hour period. It's the Die Hard formula transferred into the future. Of course, this film lacks the main thing that made Die Hard great, specifically the knowledge that Bruce Willis could die at practically any second, but it does put Dredd in his element and just lets him do what he does best -- handing down his bloody verdicts.
2. There's No Love Story
Back in the '95 version, Diane Lane took on the thankless task of playing Dredd's sidekick and, it's strongly hinted at, his potential girlfriend. Here, there's zero romantic chemistry between Thirlby and Urban and that's entirely intentional. All he wants from Cassandra is for her to do her job, thus ensuring that they both stay alive. Dredd doesn't exactly pass the Bechdel Test (given that there are practically no other women for Cassandra to speak to), but it does allow Thirlby to actually see a great deal of action instead of relegating her to the sidelines waiting to be rescued. In a way, this is really Cassandra's tale; where Dredd begins and ends the film in the same place, she transforms from a rookie into an experienced enforcer during the course of this trial by fire.
3. Cersei Gives Great Villain
We already know from Game of Thrones that Headey is great at playing evil. And while Queen Cersei is a more complicated and interesting villain than Ma-Ma, it's a blast to see the actress just unhitch her inner ferocity and attack her enemies head-on instead of via scheming and backstabbing. My only major complaint about Ma-Ma is that her final showdown with Dredd wraps up too quickly; the movie builds up to this confrontation only to rush through it. Didn't Garland and director Pete Travis learn anything from all the video games they obviously played to find inspiration for the action sequences? The last boss is always supposed to be the hardest to defeat.
4. It Makes Slow Motion Cool Again
The slow-motion approach to carnage popularized by John Woo and made even bigger by The Matrix ran its course during the previous decade, but Dredd brings it back in a few key sequences that are as gimmicky as all get-out, but play like gangbusters. The first comes when two hapless victims are fed Ma-Ma's slow-mo drug and then pushed off a balcony for a plunge that seems to last an eternity. (This scene is also one of the arguments for seeing the movie in 3D.) Later on, there's another great sequence where a henchmen takes a hit of the drug just as Dredd and Cassandra come blasting through his door, leading to a shoot-out that plays out entirely in slow motion. Innovative? No, but it does look pretty darn cool.
5. It's Over Quickly
Clocking in at a swift 98 minutes, Dredd introduces its heroes, puts them through their paces and then sends them off-duty without breaking much of a sweat. To be honest, the movie probably could have stood to be a little shorter. A dumb subplot involving a squad of corrupt judges who are enlisted to hunt and kill their colleagues could easily have been eliminated, with a few of those minutes given back to the too-quick Ma-Ma/Dredd final duel. Garland also provides just enough material about the future world Dredd inhabits to seed the ground for a follow-up. We'll have to wait and see whether further screen adventures are in the offing, but as a one-shot, Dredd gets the job done.
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