Dredd, the completely justifiable reboot of the one franchise Sylvester Stallone couldn’t make money with, is glorious trash. It will warm the hearts of those that long for a simpler time when the mass slaughter of bad guys on film didn’t need some kind of message or a visit to the psychiatrist’s afterward to discover what was wrong with the viewer, and will similarly elate puritanical idiots worldwide by giving them something to nail to the cross as an example of how society has fallen.
I am firmly in the former category.
The film manages to eschew all the nudge-nudge, wink-wink, a carefully staged Hollywood-isms and Rob Schneiders that blighted the Stallone original, replacing them with a genuinely gritty and urban feel.
More specifically a Karl Urban feel. Urban straps on the huge ungainly Dredd helmet that Stallone famously refused to wear (“My fans need to see it’s me!”), and he is the perfect man for it – as no-one actually knows who he is anyway.
But now thanks to this movie, even people who didn’t read the underground comics (i.e. 99.87% of the globe) know who Dredd is meant to be. And it’s fun to know.
The United States have become a vast irradiated wasteland, with all surviving members of humanity moving to one huge mega-city with a population of 800 million all living atop one another. In a city this size and a situation this dire and crime an omni-present reality, it’s no wonder that the huddled masses turn to something else to find release.
That ‘something’ is a new drug called ‘slo-mo’, which once injected has the effect of slowing down reality to 1/1000 the normal speed, with an associated absence of reality. The main supplier of the drug is Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), the brutal, hard as nails queenpin of an equally rough organisation. Ma-Ma has a tripped out drawl that sounds like she is always coming off a hit of her own, but she is swift to action and quite willing to personally get involved with any wet-work required to protect her turf.
We meet Dredd (Urban) on a day like any other, that is a day where he has a fair chance to be killed as he strives to protect a society that both resents and for the most part doesn’t deserve his endeavours. On this day Dredd is to break in a rookie, an orphaned young woman from an unfortunate background named Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), selected primarily for her stronger than usual psychic powers.
When the first call of the morning comes in it just happens to be on the steps of Ma-Ma’s huge apartment cum slumblock fortress. When Dredd does what he does and Ma-Ma doesn’t like the results, she calls in a hit in much the same way as the bad guy from The Raid: Redemption does, locking down the building and demanding everyone drop what they are doing and focus their attentions on killing Dredd and Anderson post haste.
Dredd is gritty, grimy and low budget but by no means is it crappy. Finally after a decade or more of lamenting the lack of justifiable reboots and remakes here comes one that takes the source material back to the roots.
Urban, Thirlby and Headey do all that is required in their limited roles – which isn’t much. This is a bare bones action film with bullets flying, blood leaking and bad guys getting eviscerated by the truckload.
The film is simple and effective, with extreme violence used to please the audience, only unlike Punisher: War Zone it doesn’t just exist to be violent. Like Piranha 3D, here is a trashy film that might reinvigorate a tired genre by proving low budget doesn’t need to mean zero effort. As a result Dredd is the film Punisher: War Zone (and for that matter Doom, Priest, Max Payne, Total Recall 2012 and Jonah Hex) all aspire to be. If and when they grow up…
I can only hope that this proves to be a reboot that boots a potential franchise in the right direction, instead of the gutter where the above-mentioned films ended up.
Final Rating – 7 / 10. Finally Karl Urban stars in a film worthy of addition to his CV. All it took was a big helmet and an almost total absence of dialogue to get it there…