It would be damning with faint praise to say the new cinematic interpretation of the British superhero Judge Dredd was better than the old 1995 one but, you know, nothing like saying it was worse than Danny Cannon’s goofy, pre-strained bland disappointment.
It didn’t help that Stallone’s slide into self-parody had practically lapped itself by that point, and the successful action movie formulas of the ‘80s had distilled themselves into safe, boring pablum. And you have to be kidding yourself to think that a modern action movie is likely to be much (if any) better.
So, the good news is that this avoids the worst sins of the old film: Particularly Rob Schneider. Not that it was Schneider’s fault, but the whole story of a cop with a noob rookie chick partner, a comic relief sidekick, fighting against a corrupt system? Ugh.
And while there are bad judges, the system itself is portrayed as being overwhelmed rather than corrupt at the top. (This apparently maps to the comic book, where the top judge is incorruptible.)
And instead of a plucky Diane Lane (whose character makes little sense in Dredd’s dystopia), we have a sort of odd, ethereal Olivia Thirby, whom Dredd is supposed to “field test”. She doesn’t meet Judge criteria, but she’s psychic, which works out better than it sounds.
In a refreshing change from most of these modern comic book interpretations, we don’t take up 40 minutes with an origin story: Basically, there’s a dystopic future America with crime-ridden megalopolises peppered with giant towers where the poor peeps live. The Judges are one-man legal systems, catching the perps, sentencing them, and occasionally (when they resist arrest) executing them.
In this case, Drudge, played by Karl Urban, and Anderson (Thirby) track down some murdered drug dealers to a vicious drug kingpin MaMa (played with typical vigor by Lena Heady), who dominates a large tower in a particularly bad sector of town. For reasons I forget, MaMa decides that her best option is to kill the two Judges rather than let them go back and report their discoveries.
In service of this end, she gets the tower locked down into “war mode”, traps our two heroes inside and has her goons go after them, floor-by-floor. In essence, Anabasis, then. (Think more The Warriors than End of Watch.)
Actually, I’ve been playing this sorta non-game, and all I could think was “Wow, this is just a really dysfunctional Tiny Tower.) And then, "Wow, that would be a 10 times better game than the actual Tiny Tower.”
Karl Urban, once again manages to amaze, playing Dredd straight, with a touch of Sylvester Stallone and a fair amount of Peter-Weller-as-Robocop. It reminds me of his performance as Bones in Star Trek. Just enough DeForest Kelly to be appealing, without being parodic or campy.
So, acting is good, story is unpretentious, and the direction is mostly pretty crisp. Entertaining.
Flaws? Well, it’s violent. While that’s not so much a flaw as a prerequisite for this kind of film, and while it’s better than the kind of bloodless fare of the ’90s, the stuff here is gratuitously graphic, a la Killing Them Softly. Maybe more so. It’s also a bit over-the-top at times.
This is magnified by the “slo-mo” drug, which is the movie macguffin and causes the user to perceive things in extra slow-motion. Naturally, much of the violence that occurs is seen from the perspective of the drug-users. Since nothing is really from their perspective, this comes off as a cheap and transparent gimmick.
But that’s kind of a minor nitpick. If you don’t mind the gore, it’s a pretty good flick. Even The Boy liked it, and I doubt I could get him to sit down and watch the ’95 version.