Thoughts on “Dredd”

So here I start another pack of science fiction movies, this one a five pack and a pack that seems to contain more recent movies that the ten movie pack that I just talked about.  This movie is a case in point, because while I’m not really any kind of fan of the Judge Dredd universe, I knew that there was a Judge Dredd movie made that starred, if I’m not mistaken, Sylvester Stallone that wasn’t well-received, and so again I was curious to see if I wouldn’t like the movie after.  But then the actor playing Judge Dredd didn’t sound at all like Stallone — to his credit — and so I had to wonder if I was mistaken, and then in looking it up realized that this was indeed a more recent movie, starring Keith Urban instead (which explains the difference in voice) and presumably having a completely different plot.  I wasn’t even aware this movie existed.  Or, as it turns out, I was aware that it existed because I had caught part of the end of it on the Canadian game show channel (GameTV) since they run movies overnight that I can never watch but that I sometimes catch the tail end of because I get up early, but I didn’t realize what that movie was.  At any rate, I didn’t know anything about the movie or about its reception going into watching it.  Would it be any good?

Let me start with the plot.  The movie is set in the dystopian future of the Judge Dredd universe, and the intro notes that despite the efforts of the all-powerful Judges the corruption is getting worse.  We are introduced to Dredd as he takes down some criminals who are using a new drug that slows down the perception of time for the people who use it, and the people who created and are selling that drug use it to punish someone who has betrayed them by giving that person the drug and then tossing them off a really high building, so that the fall seems to last forever.  At the same time, Dredd is being assigned to evaluate a potential Judge, who just barely flunked out of Judge training but has psychic powers that his superior is anxious to see utilized in support of their cause, much to Dredd’s skepticism.  He lets her choose the case they pursue, and she chooses the strange murder.  Once they get inside, they bust one of the dens selling the drug and capture one of the main figures behind the drug ring, which spurs the sadistic woman leader of the ring to lock down the huge tower in an attempt to kill everyone involved before the Judges find out that this tower is the main and only source for that drug.  Thus, Dredd and the recruit must fight their way through the building to try to get help, survive, and dispense justice.

I will give this movie credit for doing something that most movies these days don’t manage to do:  it knows what kind of movie it wants to be and builds the plot accordingly.  The plot is little more than a framing device for often brutal action and a little bit of an examination of the brutality of the world and the Judges themselves, and as such it works and is even entertaining, if you like that sort of movie.  The setting does play an integral role in the plot and atmosphere, and it has sensible technological gadgets that serve the plot but don’t overwhelm it (different types of ammo in the guns and an … interesting mechanism to ensure that they aren’t used by opponents).  Urban’s Dredd is credibly taciturn and yet we can believe him at the end when he marks his recruit as a pass despite her having made a mistake that’s an automatic fail (losing her sidearm) and the recruit is sympathetic enough that we want to root for her.  The main villain is overly sadistic, but that works in a movie like this (although using massive machine guns to try to kill them is an over-the-top attack that should have killed them and it was only extreme luck that it didn’t, which hurts the image of Dredd and the Judges).

There are some problems.  The first one is that while the movie isn’t bad there are sections of it that are pretty boring, which are the scenes where Dredd and the recruit are walking through the building facing the hordes of enemies.  In theory, these should be the most tense scenes, so it’s a little puzzling how boring they are.  The reason, I think, is that the movie doesn’t do what most movies would do in this situation, which is give them a goal to be working towards in all of these cases.  Here, the movie gives them a purpose at the beginning — get to the med centre — but then when they can’t get in they seem to be stumbling around with no real goal other than to survive.  Movies that work better would move them from there to heading towards some kind of back-up communicator or armoury or something, culminating in them having to take the fight directly to the villain herself.  Here, they get through on their communicators to the other Judges after the villain shoots the wall open and so they can stand outside for a while, and then Dredd only goes after the main villain because after a betrayal they end up capturing the recruit, and only after she escapes and saves Dredd’s life.  The villain’s ending is appropriate — she inhales her own drugs and is tossed off the building in the same way as she killed the other person — but it seems like it’s just there to wrap up the movie rather than as something the whole movie was building up to.

The other big problem is the presence of corrupt Judges.  The movie sets up the Judges as, well, being the law, and so the idea that Judges would be corrupt should be — and I think is in-universe — something completely shocking.  But here we not only can see it coming, it also seems a bit anti-climactic.  The corrupt Judges are nothing more than really tough enemies and not an indication of the ultimate betrayal of the Judges that they should be.  I think it would have been better to save that for a sequel when Judges turning corrupt could be a more major part of the plot.

But as far as I know there wasn’t a sequel.  Still, I didn’t mind this movie.  I don’t think I’m going to get a hankering to rewatch it any time soon, but it’s definitely a movie that I could watch again at some point, and it’s better than a number of science fiction movies that I’ve watched, despite being no where near as ambitious.  There is clearly something to be said for knowing what your universe is built around and what you want to do with it and just executing it the best you can.

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One Response to “Thoughts on “Dredd””

  1. Thoughts on “Hotel Artemis” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] things to write about and so haven’t talked about the other movies in that five movie pack that started with “Dredd” for a while, but I had watched more of them (at the time of writing, I only have one left) and so […]

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