Film Review: Dredd

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dredd

Most people who know me and my general taste in movies are utterly surprised when I say that I love Dredd, especially if they are also fans of the comic books series. They mostly say, “But it’s incredibly violent and you don’t watch that sort of thing”. I usually reply with something along the line of, “Yeah I know, but the film’s awesome, and easily my favourite comic book film ever. I don’t know the comics but that film makes me want to actually read them.”

Saying that sort of thing generally sparks off a series of recommendations and an agreement; Dredd is easily one of the best adaptions from comic books ever made. Most films based on comics don’t make me interested in the source material; Dredd does and the reliance on the source material, which I’ve been told has been very faithfully adapted for the big screen, is for me the reason behind its success. All of the creative energy that has been going into the comic books for years is utilised as much as possible, rather than just being used as an occasion reference.

And it is such a shame that Dredd, despite being brilliant, wasn’t successful in terms of money. I know that money is important and that it fuels Hollywood, but sometimes I do despair that for an industry based on creative forces and storytelling that sometimes they are put aside simply because of money. Especially when I see some of the drivel that is made and produced, when utterly brilliant ideas are put aside.

Hollywood is currently in a trend (that is seemingly never-ending and tedious) of making sequels, prequels and re-makes of old favourites that has source material like a book to base it on, and I know that Dredd falls into the category of not being original having been based on a comic book and for even being a re-make of a 90s film. I know that begging for a sequel is a bit hypocritical, but then again most sequels, prequels and remakes are based on marginally successful films that appeal to a mass market and are then done badly.

Dredd is more niche, can’t be advertised to children, and therefore families, like other comic book films can be. I think it is very much because of that limited consumer market that Dredd is less likely to be considered for a sequel, as it would be more expensive to produce than a second-rate horror film that is normally produced for the adult market. And honest to god is a tragedy that this is the case. Fine it isn’t original, it is an adaption, but the film is just superb from start to finish.

Dredd, portrayed by Karl Urban, is a character you only know from his chin, is the perfect anti-hero. The world of Mega-City One is a place where fascism and anarchy clash on a daily basis, and Dredd is a judge with the power to catch, convict and execute criminals. He lacks charisma, and has few redeemable features, but I adore the character. I love that he’s teamed with Judge Anderson, a rookie with psychic abilities who looks cute and vulnerable, but is determined and more than capable of holding her own.

They clash with Ma-Ma, who is beautifully and terrifying portrayed by Lena Headey. She is the perfect villain; she is sinister, ruthless and subtle. There is nothing over the top about her character; she is utterly confident in her own abilities and her command over her clan, which makes her deadly. Her hold of terror over Domhnall Gleeson’s role as the Clan’s tech expert makes you fear for his character. Gleeson might not be well known for his role in this underrated film, and Headey is better known for being a Lannister, but their performances are sublime.

It isn’t just the characters that I like in the film. The plot, is also great. It’s not too complicated, but not so simple as to be boring. The film is essentially a day in the life of Judge Dredd, which results in him being trapped in Peach Trees, a mega block controlled by Ma-Ma’s clan after he and Anderson arrive to investigate a triple homicide and end up doing a routine drug bust. They step on Ma-Ma’s toes though and end up in a full on war with the clan. It all happens in a day and has you hooked as you don’t know what will happen as the two judges ascend the floors and turn each corner.

Then the third element that makes the film great and is one of the things I love the most is the world-building. Mega City One is a massive dystopian city that is very well thought out and created. I am partial to a dystopian world, and Mega City One just ticks all the boxes, especially as a city. It is grim, realistic, has a criminal underbelly and an opposing authority, with a sub-culture of mutants. Most the city though is make up of good and decent people who are just trying to make their way in the world and life their lives. The law enforcement might be a bit fascist, but they are there to protect law abiding citizens against the anarchy, and it is that clash between law and disorder in a city of constrained space is the perfect background for the plot and characters.

It is the excellent execution of the critical elements of storytelling (characters, plot and world-building) that makes Dredd a brilliantly conceived film. Fine it isn’t an original idea, but it was a faithful adaptation of an original idea made with a great script, great actors and a passion for making something that was a little bit different than what the mainstream film market normally offers. Sequel please!

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About kabrown4

A quaint life full of teacups searched for inspiration to fuel a writer dreaming of fantasy worlds that are full of friends found only in words. I have been writing for as long as I can remember and over the years I have developed many stories and many characters. This is my blog about the journeys I've been on over the years, and the road I'm still travelling as a writer.

3 responses »

  1. Obviously, I love that you love this film, but it interests me that you do, especially given how much you hate Pacific Rim which I think does have similarities. Dredd isn’t really what you’d call a rounded character, he’s more a lump of stone that everything else in the story pivots around – the living embodiment of the Law that he represents. He doesn’t really have an arc, or relationships, or issues. He’s just there. That’s probably one of the reasons he’s never made it into the mainstream; and has never played well in the USA. He’s not smart and funny like Tony Stark, he’s not moulded by tragedy or battling his demons like Bruces Wayne and Banner, he’s not heroic like Steve Rogers (although he is heroic in his own way). In many ways he’s the exact opposite of Captain America – Dredd is the grim embodiment of a fascist state, which doesn’t really sell a lot of action figures. He’s not the bad guy, but he certainly isn’t the good guy.

    It’s a real shame that it looks like there won’t be a follow-up (either film or TV), because you could go almost anywhere in the world Dredd lives in and have an interesting story to tell. Dredd doesn’t even need to be in it much, if at all (although I’d be fine with Karl Urban popping the helmet on again. His chin-only acting was absolutely spot on.). You’ve probably had a load of recommendations from other people, but if you can, check out Song of the Surfer; the Insurrection series (plural); and The Simping Detective (or anything involving the Low Life and/or Dirty Frank).

    Yup.

    • Trust me no one was more surprised than I was that I loved this film and its lead character. But in my own writing I create characters who are grey, rather than black and white. When it comes to Dredd I found it very refreshing to watch a story that was plot driven, rather than character driven. So many of the Marvel films (while I love them) are driven purely by the characters transforming. Dredd is a reactionary plot: an event happens and it leads to another and another, while building the tension. While Anderson certainly grows in confidence as a character, the lack of character development in the film is what makes the film work so well. I can respect a rookie Judge gaining confidence over a period of a day, but if any of the other characters had changed and developed it wouldn’t have been as convincing. It is very unfortunate I think that film makers believe that to make a good film you need a character arc. Solid characters and a building plot are just as good, but you’re right, they aren’t as marketable in the US and in truth a lot harder to pull off.
      I’ll check out your recommendations.

  2. Pingback: Why Zootopia is the most important film of 2016 – a plea from a film lover. | A Young Writer's Notebook

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