Saturday, September 22, 2012

Dredd (Movie Review)

Although I'm a big comic book fan, I've only got a few issues featuring Judge Dredd. Mainly because the character is a U.K. property and doesn't see a lot of distribution in the U.S.

The few issues I do have I picked up on a trip to Australia in Jr. High. I loved what little I read of this strange, dystopian future in which crime is such a problem that the entire justice system is distilled into one armed force called "The Judges", who act as police officers, judge, jury, and often executioner.

I'm probably in the minority, but I enjoyed the Sylvester Stallone Judge Dredd movie that came out in the 90's. Some of what I knew of Judge Dredd it represented well. Some of what I knew it totally dropped the ball on. Either way, I was still very interested to see what this latest conversion to the big screen would bring.

The script and directing this time bring a decidedly more gritty and grounded feel to the world of Judge Dredd, both figuratively and literally. For example, the bikes that the Judges have been known to either drive or fly around on in the comics and earlier film are firmly attached to the pavement in this movie.

The setting is also more like modern America than you might expect. The people of the world have escaped the radiation of fallout by clumping together in "Mega Cities" that span hundreds of miles. These cities, despite their size, look much like run-down versions of modern cities, with the exception of massive newer buildings that climb high into the sky and house thousands of people.

The result of this mixing is a run-down future world that looks like ours gone to pot, but peppered with future tech. And though a few times I thought the Judges' uniforms looked a little too "superhero rubbery" for this gritty world, the blend of technologies works well.

The story centers on Judge Dredd, who is tasked with taking a rookie on a test assignment, to determine whether or not she is fit to be a Judge. And when things go south, Dredd and the rookie find themselves confined to one of these large housing towers, hunted by sadistically violent and depraved gang members.

This is a dark movie, to put it lightly. It's also extremely violent and gory. However some of the goriest moments are also the most captivating and, dare I say, beautiful, as the use of slow motion in key sequences is possibly the most mesmerizing display of gore since "300".

The performances are all very solid. Lena Headey is calmly menacing and disturbing as the leader of the gang. And Karl Urban makes a great, grim-faced Judge Dredd. Or half of a face. Props go to Urban for being willing to keep his pretty-boy actor face covered for the entire movie, as Dredd is traditionally portrayed in the comics. And although I wasn't always completely sold on Urban's voice being the right fit, I adjusted my expectations quickly, and he won me over with what he brought to the table even while limited to the use of his voice, neck and mouth to portray Dredd's character.

Dredd was probably the most interesting character to me. His back story is kept completely hidden, and we are only able to guess at what he might be thinking. But the way Dredd responds to evil, his cynical view of the world, all make him a wonderful puzzle to watch and listen to.

This is a great, dark, violent, action-packed dystopian sci-fi flick. If even half of those adjectives fit the kinds of things you like, you may regret not seeing this in the theater.

The movie also has potential for stirring up worthwhile thought or conversation about human nature and the concept of justice. Dystopian settings like this one expect viewers to willingly believe (at least while enjoying the story) that humanity is probably getting worse morally, not better. And the world of Dredd is depraved to say the least. There are a number of seriously evil people in this story, and many innocents become victims of their purposeful attacks, or selfish, reckless negligence. The experience made me yearn for justice to be done, and Dredd is the answer provided.

Yet even while it is gratifying to see the bad guys get their due, there are times when its clear that the Judges are not perfect and the system is not perfect. In fact it will likely seem overly harsh to some people. One death in particular is a messy situation (both emotionally and visually) because the man being executed was certainly guilty of attempted murder, but he also wasn't one of the card-carrying "evil-through-and-through" bad guys. I was left shaking my head, unsure of whether or not justice had been done.

I think the chief reason for this is that those judging and dispensing justice are themselves imperfect. This is usually the sentiment we throw back at others when they seem to be judging us. And yet most of us still recognize that justice is a good thing. We want justice. We crave it on behalf of both ourselves and others. But we don't like to BE judged and it feels wrong somehow to be judged by other flawed people.

This led me to remembering that one day our craving for perfect, absolute justice will be satisfied, and not by a flawed human or organization. It will be satisfied fully by God, who has done no wrong, who sees all things perfectly, and whom no one will rightly question as justice is dispensed.

Rated R for strong bloody violence, language, drug use and some sexual content

Quality: 9.0/10

Relevance: 7.0/10

What do these scores mean?

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