Dredd (Pete Travis, 2012)
I am one of the few who actually likes, in an entirely non-ironic way, Danny Cannon’s cheesy 1995 Judge Dredd with Sylvester Stallone in the title role. It’s a silly movie, but if you took it seriously, you were kind of missing the point. It’s meant to be over the top, and it succeeds gloriously. Because of this, I was maybe a little more wary of the 2012 reboot than I needed to be, especially when the glowing reviews started pouring in. So it took me perhaps longer to get round to watching it than it should have. Ultimately, you can count me up as yet another convert to the cause; while the film is not without its (minor) problems, Karl Urban filled those shoes far better than I ever thought he would, and the breathtaking cinematography from Alex Dod Mantle (who also worked with writer Alex Garland on the similarly-gorgeous 28 Days Later…) pushes it over the top from acceptable to incredible.
The plot: MegaCity has itself a new drug called SloMo, which does, well, about what you would expect. Right about the time you’re asking yourself why this might be a bad thing, one of the drug’s dealers injects someone with it, then pushes him off a 53rd-floor (was it 53rd? I think so) balcony. That drop is, well, ten times longer when you think the world is moving ten times slower. Enter MegaCity’s police force. Judge Dredd (Doom‘s Karl Urban, who’s come a long way, baby) has just been assigned a green recruit named Anderson (The Darkest Hour‘s Olivia Thirlby) to evaluate. Not the best idea when you’re on your way to Peach Trees, MegaCity’s equivalent of Cabrini Green in the early eighties, in order to take down Ma-Ma (The Purge‘s Lena Headey) and her gang of merry dealers. Though they don’t know that yet at the beginning of the film—they only know Peach Trees is the place it’s all coming from, and that they’re going to stop it—unless Ma-Ma and her trigger-happy gang get there first.
You probably found yourself thinking of a dozen different movies while reading that ridiculous attempt at a synopsis. I know I did while writing it—Training Day, The Raid: Redemption, The Horde, Red Road, and of course the 1995 Sylvester Stallone movie are all obvious points of comparison, and you’re sure to find a lot of others. And yet Dredd manages, somehow, to reference all these things, often blatantly, without ever feeling derivative. That’s huge, and I think a lot of it is down to screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days Later…) . While the films based on his novels (which are similarly excellent) tend to be woeful, his original screenplays, well, I have yet to see one that wasn’t cracking, and Dredd is no exception to the rule. Director Pete Travis (Endgame) gives Garland’s script a grimy feel that really works here, and the principals all bring their A games (in some cases, I didn’t even know these folks had A games to bring). As far as I’m concerned, Dredd ends up being the most pleasant surprise of 2012: an action movie that fires on every level. *** ½