Kevin: After a week of the inmates running the asylum at Tough Guy Digest, I’m back to administer some medication to the rest of the staff and insist we take a break from reviewing movies that exist in our imaginations and re-focus on those that Hollywood actually released. So if I am going to have to lay down the law, I might as well start with Hollywood’s second attempt at glorifying another unmerciful judgmental fascist like myself with 2012’s “Dredd”:
CJ and friend-of-the-site Adam had previously discussed Sylvester Stallone’s failed attempt at bringing Judge Dredd to life in 1995 with a version of the comic book character that greatly displeased the hardcore fans. Seventeen years later director Pete (“Vantage Point”) Travis and screenwriter Alex (“28 Days Later”) Garland attempted to revive Judge Dredd by giving those same nerds exactly what they said they wanted, so of course the resulting movie bombed even harder than Stallone’s version. But if nothing else time has been much kinder to “Dredd,” as those of us who caught up to it following its release immediately recognized it for the underrated action gem that is.
I always regretted not catching it in theaters, so I was not going to miss that opportunity again when the Alamo Drafthouse – in conjunction with Austin-based brewer 4th Tap Brewing Cooperative – hosted a screening of the film a few weeks ago. After finally getting to see it on the big screen, along with CJ and a very large and enthusiastic crowd, I will list several ways that “Dredd” is both superior to the Stallone version and just a superior action film in general:
– Unlike Sly’s version, this Dredd never takes his helmet off! Actually I could give two shits about this, but according to the nerds this is one of those “Comic Book Tenets That Cannot Be Broken!,” along with “Batman doesn’t kill people” and “Spider-Man’s web shooters have to be mechanical and not organic.” If you’ve ever detected an entire roomful of vaginas drying up, it’s probably because at least two comic geeks nearby were having a heated argument about one of these principles (although I am curious as to why Spider-Man is supposed to have all the attributes of a spider except the ability to make his own webs). So yeah, Dredd never takes off his helmet, and I guess that’s realistic out in the field, but seems kind of rude when he is talking to people inside police HQ (kind of like that douche I sat next to who wore sunglasses on a flight from Vegas at night several years ago)
– The movie establishes that it takes place in a dystopian future with a few shots of congested freeways and some stock footage, and we buy it completely. We get it, it’s the future, it’s overcrowded, everything sucks, let’s move on; we don’t need to spend tens of millions of dollars on CGI shots of flying cars. Also, does anyone think we will ever get to a world posited by “Judge Dredd,” “The Fifth Element,” “Blade Runner,” etc., where thousands upon thousands of cars are flying through the air and there aren’t horrific accidents every 10 minutes? Think about some of the worst drivers you’ve ever known. Now think about those people behind the wheel of a flying car. Is that a world you want to live in?
– We get a little “Robocop”-style humor at the expense of this militaristic society in which civilian life is obviously worth very little, but it’s subtle rather than hit-you-over-the-head social commentary. So basically the opposite of if Neil (“District 9”) Blomkamp had directed it. Once again, we get it, Dredd and the other judges are emotionless tools of a pitiless government. Are we supposed to sign a petition to get the actual Department of Justice to investigate this fictional police force, or can we just sit back and enjoy Judge Dredd blowing away some colorful scum?
– The characterization of Judge Dredd doesn’t vary wildly depending on what the needs of the script are at that particular time. He has a sense of right and wrong and follows his code consistently. When told that his rookie partner failed to pass the judge’s exam by such a small percentage as to be marginal, Dredd – in my favorite line – responds, “It’s not marginal, she failed.” But while he’s often characterized as looking for any reason to blow a suspect away, his code also extends to the law. When his psychic partner says she is 99 percent sure a suspect is guilty of murder, Dredd says, “We can’t execute a perp on 99 percent.”
– We don’t have to deal with some unnecessary backstory for Dredd or shoehorn in some previous connection to the villain. Dredd is a legendary cop dedicated to taking down the guilty. Main villain Ma-Ma didn’t kill Dredd’s wife or child or dog or anything in a flashback. She’s just a gang leader who happened to get on Dredd’s radar by coincidence. Dredd has apparently never heard of Ma-Ma before, but once he learns of her criminality he knows she needs to be taken down. He doesn’t even lay eyes on her until the very end, but his method of dispatching her is way more satisfying and crowd-pleasing than if we had to sit through a lot of exposition about how they knew each other as kids and blah, blah, blah.
– Keep it simple: I’ve seen Stallone’s “Judge Dredd” several times, and if you asked me to describe the plot I’d say that Dredd had a brother played by Armand Assante, but who was actually his clone I think, and who escaped and framed his brother/clone for murder, so that he could create more clones I guess, and Rob Schneider got involved, for reasons I can’t remember. Whereas “Dredd” belongs to my favorite action genre: small group under siege by larger force. You seriously can’t go wrong with this premise, especially if you are on a budget, as films like “Rio Bravo,” “The Alamo,” “Assault on Precinct 13,” “Aliens,” “Black Hawk Down,” and “The Raid” (which came out the same year and shares a number of characteristics with “Dredd”) have proved.
– As sacrilegious as it is to say, I prefer someone else playing the same character to Sylvester Stallone. While Sly is just kinda playing Sly in “Judge Dredd,” Karl Urban really does make the role his own without a lot of showy moments or major dramatic arc. Actually I feel like we don’t appreciate Karl Urban enough. He’s always really compelling in whatever he’s in, he has the rugged good looks of Clint Eastwood and can also generate laughs by conveying a similar Clint-like annoyance with people or situations, and is great at delivering lines like “Judgment time!” with no sense of irony, which makes them even more awesome. He would have been a great ‘80s tough guy but was born in the wrong decade, and if he had been cast as Wolverine back in the day I think we all agree he would have at least been as great in that role as Hugh Jackman.
So after seeing both Sly Stallone and Karl Urban utter the immortal line “I am the law,” what are your thoughts on “Dredd” CJ?
CJ: I don’t know about you, but while we were watching “Dredd” I kept trying to mimic Karl Urban’s near-constant scowl that he maintains throughout this movie and I couldn’t hold it for more than half a second. How did he manage to say his lines like that? I feel like we should take all the living Best Actor winners and make them try and talk with that scowl. If they can’t, they hand their statues to Karl.
Speaking of Karl, he spells it Karl! The Kool way! I really just wanted to second your thoughts on him being great in everything. I loved him in “Lord of the Rings,” thought he was hilarious in the “Star Trek” movies, and feel confident saying he will probably be a pleasant surprise in “Thor: Ragnorak.” Although I would have liked it if they kept his Dredd in the MCU.
Tangentially related to the movie, I’d like to talk about Dredd’s co-hosts the night we watched this, 4th Tap Brewing Cooperative. The fine people at 4th Tap explained how many (or maybe all, I can’t remember since I was buzzed) of their beers were actually named after elements from Judge Dredd. It was a neat way to sample several beers they had on tap, and I personally wanted to give a little love to their Mega Citrus One. How do I put this eloquently? Holy balls was that some tasty shit! I don’t mean to exaggerate, but I would push all of you into shark-infested waters for another pint of that delicious elixir.
I think what I liked most about “Dredd” is that it didn’t get needlessly overcomplicated. Dredd and his rookie partner Anderson enter a 200-story apartment complex. Said complex is taken over by Ma-Ma and all exit points are locked down. Ma-Ma announces that it’s open season on the judges. While Dredd and Anderson react in a “Okay, time to get ready” kind of way, my penis hid back up inside my body. As you noted earlier Kevin, any time you use this plot device it works. No need for 10 minutes of overly detailed exposition. Just “hey these guys seem fucked, let’s see how they survive the night.”
I do think the biggest difference between “Dredd” and “Judge Dredd” isn’t that we went from Stallone demanding “WE MUST SHOW MY FACE GARBLE GARBLE” to Urban not caring if anyone saw him, it’s that “Dredd” features a total lack of Rob Schneider. I’m not going to take the easy road and just lay into Rob, as I feel like society has done that for us. Rather, I just want to appreciate that “Dredd” did not feel the need to force a comedic relief character. Yes, it has a couple of good lines that give you a laugh, but they didn’t bother having a guy bouncing around constantly doing double takes and firing off zingers that were a little TOO clever considering all the gunfire being sprayed around them. And at a tight 90 minutes, “Dredd” gets from A to B without really missing or overlooking anything. What more do you need?
Post Script: There has been a clamor by the fans for a sequel to “Dredd” since it came out, which considering its meager box office take has seemed about as likely as the “MacGruber” sequel that all 26 of us who obviously appreciate great comedy have been demanding since 2010 (along with a “Hot Rod” sequel as well). But there is some hope regarding the former, as a “Dredd” TV series is apparently in development and Karl Urban has expressed an interest in being a part of it. We at TGD will be cautiously optimistic, but until we hear about an actual network deal and a series order we’ll file this under “Richard Donner has once again expressed a desire to direct a ‘Goonies’ sequel, so let’s write a click-bait headline even though that will never happen.”