The UnPopular Opinion: Dredd
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
Every so often a movie comes around that just clicks with fans because it gets the source material that inspired it just right and everything clicks in terms of story, effects, cast, and execution. Last summer, that movie was supposed to be DREDD starring Karl Urban. After the much maligned Sylvester Stallone version alienated fans of the comic it was expected that a much more serious take on the material would be needed to jump-start the potential for a JUDGE DREDD franchise. Unfortunately, Pete Travis' film still made the same mistakes as the 1995 film.
While DREDD does have the potential to work, it simply falls flat of the original comic book. In the comic, Dredd is a Clint Eastwood-esque cowboy character in a nihilistic future world. But, the comic was a very dark comic satire. The over the top violence that fuels the comic is put there for both entertaintment and to further the underlying message of corruption in modern politics. When making an action movie for mainstream audiences it can sometimes be hard to maintain a deep satirical thread without delving too much in one direction or the other. Where JUDGE DREDD became too much of a comedy, DREDD is simply just too serious and misses the point of the comic.
Sylvester Stallone is an emotive character, even if his only output is screaming or yelling to denote the entire spectrum of human feelings. His take on Judge Dredd was one that played as hammy and cheesy on screen. Karl Urban, who has been phenomenal in everything from THE LORD OF THE RINGS to STAR TREK and more, keeps his helmet on for almost the entire duration of DREDD and that pretty much becomes his character. While a comic book character has time to develop over issues and years of story, bringing that out in a film can be difficult. Urban is definitely a cool version of the judge, but he misses the humor in the role. Every one-liner uttered in the film plays like a rejected line from Christopher Nolan's DARK KNIGHT films. At least Nolan was able to show some moments of levity where DREDD is devoid.
Instead of focusing on Dredd himself, Travis' film assaults the senses with a 3D barrage of insane slow motion scenes that are built into the plot's use of a drug called very creatively called Slo-Mo. For the first minute or two, the Slo-Mo sequences feel cool, unique, and interesting, but then they drag on and on and on, leaving you to question if they are just to pad out the running time of the movie. Because, with such a bare plot you need something to reach that unspoken minimum of ninety minutes of running time. Without the slow motion, DREDD is really just a video game dressed as an action movie.
At this point you probably want to punch me in the face, but hear me out. I love video games, but that doesn't mean I loved the movie version of DOOM (hey! Karl Urban again!). DOOM's game scenes were spot on, but the rest of the movie was awful. In a lot of ways, DREDD feels that way too. Honestly, DREDD may be worse because the plot doesn't even pretend to not be a rip-off of THE RAID: REDEMPTION. Both films feature police scaling a building crawling with criminals and addicts plotting their demise. It is entirely possible both films can exist with similar plots, but having seen both films, THE RAID pulls it off so much better. I am a fan of screenwriter Alex Garland (28 DAYS LATER, SUNSHINE), but DREDD may be his weakest screenplay so far.
Yeah, Rob Schneider and Armand Assante may be big negatives in JUDGE DREDD, but I cannot stand Olivia Thirlby's Judge Anderson character in DREDD. Her entire existence feels as if it is just to further the plot and conveniently allow for the climax of the film to work within the confines of the screenplay. Based on a character from the comics, Anderson comes across much differently in the movie than she did in the comic. Of course, films are completely open to changing and updating characters, but both Urban and Thirlby feel like two dimensional takes on characters that should have been easy to bring to life.
The lone bright spot in DREDD is Lena Headey's Ma-Ma. Headey is a great actress who proved she is a villain of highest regard on GAME OF THRONES and potrays Ma-ma with such a dead-eyed ferocity that it is a shame she is relegated to the Big Boss character in this movie. I wanted her to be a much stronger adversary for Judge Dredd, to bring something out of his stoic character. Instead, she just brings more death.
I can enjoy a blood-soaked action flick with the best of them, but DREDD has no heart. DREDD is a well filmed collection of action scenes that should have been a part of a much livelier movie. Like the characters populating Ma-Ma's tower, DREDD is lifeless, dull, and out of chances. There is a petition for a sequel to DREDD to get made, but I don't want to see another movie like this one. I want the medium between JUDGE and DREDD. Maybe Urban isn't the man, maybe Stallone wasn't either, but someone out there is capable of bridging that line between campy, over the top, violent, and damn funny. Maybe someday we will get that DREDD.