Can we please get more remakes like this? Pretty please?
Dredd takes place in a future America that’s been nuked down to a wasteland. The only civilization left standing is a stretch from Boston to D.C. – now known as Mega City One. The crime rate is suffocating, a drug called Slo-Mo rules the streets, and the only thing standing between order and full-out chaos are Judges. Enter Dredd, a veteran Judge who’s damn good at his job. But much to his disapproval, the day we meet him is the day he’s partnered up with a rookie psychic who doesn’t know what she’s gotten herself into. With introductions out of the way, they respond to their first call after three bodies are found mutilated in a local Mega Building run by a cold-blooded drug lord. They snoop around, make some arrests, and before they know it, they’re trapped inside and shooting their way through 200 floors of mayhem.
It’s The Raid: Redemption set in the post-apocalypse, not that that’s a bad thing.
From the first day I learned of this movie’s existence, I think I had the same gut reaction as most of humanity: “No.” Remaking Judge Dredd should not be a priority, let alone a reality. In a world that’s overrun by unnecessary and unoriginal movies that absolutely no one asked for, the existence of Dredd felt like a slap in the crotch. Might as well remake Battlefield Earth. The release day of Dredd was a day I was dreading (oh yes, I went there), but then the reviews started popping up, and lo and behold, it wound up hovering comfortably in the 90% range on Rotten Tomatoes before eventually dropping down to the high 70s.
This led me to two conclusions: A) People are idiots; or, B) Maybe there’s hope after all. Then I got to thinking about my own thoughts on remakes. Folks, by and large, most remakes and reboots have no place in this world since most of ’em these days get made just because. Why remake Total Recall when the original is still one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever made? Bad, Hollywood. Bad! Not to say that all remakes are bad, but I’m of the mindset that there are three valid reasons for a remake or reboot: 1) A once-great franchise has strayed from its former greatness (eg: Batman, James Bond); 2) A great movie from years past never got its proper due for some reason or other (eg: Inglourious Basterds); 3) A movie got made, it legitimately sucked, and now we have the wherewithal to make it something great. And if it doesn’t fall into those three, then stay the eff away.
Dredd, on the other hand, most definitely falls into that third category. And once this epiphany took place, my mind opened up. Still can’t believe I liked this as much as I did, but who doesn’t love a good cinematic redemption?
Now, since I’m generally unfamiliar with the source material in any way, shape, or form, I genuinely considered biting the bullet on this one and actually subjecting myself to Judge Dredd beforehand. Common sense ultimately won the war that day. From what I gather, the comic series that it’s based on are awesome, and from what I gathered further, Judge Dredd just dropped the ball. I’ve only seen bits and pieces of it, mainly ones that revolved around Rob Schneider and cyborg cannibals, but that seemed like enough to go off of. Word on the street is that it took itself way too seriously and suffered for it in excess, and given the destructive powers of Rob Schneider that we’re all too familiar with, I can see why things went so awry.
Although the funny thing is that Dredd also takes itself pretty damn seriously, but instead of becoming an Achilles’ heel, it blossoms into a core strength that in many ways makes the whole so good. I mean, this is an unusually solid action movie in ways that action movies rarely excel. Since we’re already on the subject, let’s take The Raid: Redemption for example. If you’re jonesing for non-stop ass-kickery that requires a bare minimum of brain activity, you ain’t gonna do much better. It excels and then some in terms of capitalizing on its choreography and letting that carry the weight of everything else, and while everything else is fine, “fine” is an easy bar to raise. So while it may not run on cheetah blood like its Indonesian brother from another mother, Dredd, on the other hand, covers all its bases like a boss.
The writing in particular is definitely above-average for the genre. It’s not without its fair share of familiar scenarios, but I am such a huge fan of scripts that manage to finagle their way through ’em so that they seem brand new. I’m tellin’ ya’, some of those scenes impressed the pants off me. And there’s not much in the way of plot twists or life lessons, but the characters are top-notch and the dialogue is sharp. Most notable is the stellar dynamic between Dredd and the rookie, Judge Anderson. For a role that’s totally out of Olivia Thirlby’s wheelhouse, holy crap, was she a surprise. Absolutely holds her own, handles the character perfectly, and quickly ends up being a real badass in her own fantastic way. Whereas Dredd has the moral compass of a double-sided coin, she’s the voice of reason that keeps things human. It’s a relationship that only gets better, and that’s largely due to her fleshed-out development. It’s a beautiful thing.
And as for Karl Urban, well, up until now, Karl Urban barely existed to me. It wasn’t until someone else reminded me about his role in Star Trek that I even remembered I’d seen him before. Plus, he’s got the same name as a kid I went to high school with, and I was never a big fan of that Karl Urban either. Anyway, I was skeptical at first when it seemed like he was channeling Stallone a little bit harder than anyone in a non-comedic role should be channeling Stallone, but the guy started to grow on me. Certainly helps that Dredd is such a badass character to begin with, although Urban’s presence is what makes it. A risky choice given how few people actually know who the dude is, but a choice that paid off all the same.
Bonus points for casting an unrecognizable Cersei Lannister as the drug lord. Girl rocked that ish.
And then there’s the matter of how it looks, and it looks really good. There isn’t a whole lot of time spent outdoors here, but when we do get the pleasure of seeing Mega City One in all its panoramic glory, it is something else to gawk at. I’m a stickler if there ever was one for visions of the post-apocalypse, and with its stark simplicity of gun-metal greys against an endless backdrop of hazy whites, this one’s a bonafide keeper, folks. And considering how much I hate slow-mo thanks to Zack Snyder’s insistence on filming entire movies in bullet time, this might be the first movie since The Matrix where I actually thought they pulled it off. The trick is the way director Pete Travis elevates it from a worn-out gimmick by piggybacking off the script by Alex Garland that turns Slow-Mo into a plot device. Hard to explain without seeing it in action, but this is the first time in ages where I wasn’t rolling my eyes at this stuff. Again, it’s a beautiful thing.
Plus, the actions scenes are legit. Make no mistake, this is one of the most uber-violent movies I’ve seen in a while. Blood everywhere, the slow-mo makes it that much worse – not really my thing. When it rains, it pours, but at least it comes in waves. Still, it’s generally a total blast. Love that Judge Dredd only has a handgun the entire time, also love that it can do a dozen different things that all get used to great effect. Feel like this is the kind of movie and character that would jump at the chance to take notes from Doom, but there’s something very boss about running train with a pea shooter.
Last year at this time, I never would have imagined myself giving this such a positive review, let alone watching Dredd in the first place without having lost a bet. Man, I’ve been making fun of this movie for weeks now, scoffing at that Tomatometer with a mind that it was doomed, nay, destined to suck. And I know it might look stupid, I know it might be tough to buy any of this with the memory of Judge Dredd still lingering in your memory. But truth be told, it’s some of the most fun I’ve had in a theater all year. For me, this is a watershed moment for the remake craze right now, so much so that I would love to see it become a franchise. Always great when a movie’s so good it makes you want to jump head-first into the source material.
I feel like this is what the Resident Evil series has been trying to pull off for a decade now, only not failing miserably for five straight entries. I don’t care what the box office says, that series is a disgrace to anyone who’s played a Resident Evil game. But hey, if this is how remakes are gonna look from here on out, then I am all about that Battlefield Earth remake.