Dredd 2012 Review: fear not, Stallone is nowhere to be found

Dredd-3DI will start by getting the bad out of the way early. Dredd, released last fall, was a miserable failure in the theaters failing to come close to covering its $50 million budget. Thus far, it appears to be selling well on video so it may find some success yet. While it was not the film that the fans of the character had been looking for, it was a good action film.

Created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, Judge Dredd (Joseph Dredd to his friends, if he had any) first appeared in 1977 and was an instant hit with readers. Set in a typical sci-fi style dystopian future, the stories of Dredd and the other Judges were violent for the time and dark but with a fair bit of wry humor mixed in. For a story set in a future United States, Dredd’s adventures seemed very British and had a sensibility that seemed odd to American readers. The character first appeared in 2000 A.D., a quirky magazine, and the humor in the Judge’s adventures was a major part of the story. Many early fans stayed with Dredd’s adventure because of use of humor.

The film Dredd however, looks at the concept and character through the dark lenses Hollywood seems to be using when looking at any comic book property these days. What little humor that works its way onto the screen is as dark as it gets and usually a direct result of a very violent act. The level of violence is extreme but handled in such a way that it is never very gory or overwhelming rather it is stylized in such a way that it is very easy to stay detached. Unfortunately this also has the effect of keeping the audience from ever really forming an attachment for or empathy with the characters. It is this lack of a deep connection to the viewer that is the film’s first great weakness. Dredd the person is a cypher and it is hard think of him as anything more than the guy training rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby-Juno).

A bright spot is Lena Headey (Queen Gorgo in 300) as the villain Ma-Ma. Ma-Ma is a far cry from a textbook baddie and Headey injected a lot of character into an underwritten part. While Ma-Ma is not drawn from any specific part of the original Dredd stories, she feels fully formed almost immediately and is a powerful and compelling person when on screen. She is not evil, just dead inside and that deadness spreads out to everything she touches.

Unfortunately Karl Urban (Star Trek, RED) as Dredd is the films greatest strength and at the same time it’s greatest weakness. He plays Dredd perfectly, creating the same odd allure that the character has in the comics. But it is that spot-on characterization of Dredd that weakens the film as the character is not very interesting. In the comics he is a symbol that you never really get to know. The whole ‘never take the helmet off’ idea is a strong one and the character is the symbol that Batman would be if you didn’t know that Bruce Wayne was under the cowl. But that same symbol status dooms the film to being enough like the source material that it will never really grab the audience and pull them in.

Dredd (the comic) proves to me that there really are comics that should not be adapted into films. As good as Dredd (the film) is and there is a lot to enjoy, it is just faithful enough to the comics that it fails to be a great film.


What do you think? Leave a comment.

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While I quietly wait for a really good excuse to go on an interstate mayhem spree, I read comics and watch movies. While I do the "writing" here, my wife makes it readable.

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  1. AnnaLar

    Interesting to read a review by someone that knows the comic series, most five star reviews that I have read are basing their rating on the movie only which I would give a 4.5 to.

    • Taylor Ramsey

      I rarely judge a film based on the source material. The above is more of a comparison because a faithful adaptation of this particular source does not make the best possible movie.
      Dredd was reasonably faithful, at least to the spirit of the comic, and the quality of the film suffers.
      If they had wanted a better film, they should have taken a few more liberties.The very best possible examples of this would be Watchmen (too close to the comic-but still a decent film)and V for Vendetta (HUGE liberties taken with the comic and it is a much better film for it). Staying loyal to the source needs to be less important than making a good film. But at the same time Hollywood needs to realize that some properties should never be filmed in the first place.

  2. David Tatlow

    The spirit of the comic was definitely there. I know a little of Dredd comics, but from what I do know, there was a lot to like in relation to the source material.
    I agree with your comment above also – taking certain liberties can really bridge the comic-to-movie divide. Look at the Watchmen original ending Vs. the move ending. Alan Moore basically stole the original from an episode of The Twilight Zone (or Outer Limits, not sure), but the twist that the film gives the ending is far more effective and in keeping with the tone.
    I got a real sense that this film was setting the tone for a franchise, kind of like Fellowship in the LOTR series. As great as Fellowship was, it does a lot of the thankless tasks in establishing the story, characters, motives, histories etc. If Dredd can possibly spawn a sequel, I can see Mega City One coming into play a lot more. Oddly, it is very similar to The Raid: Redemption, and The Raid will be taking a much wider approach with its sequel.

    • Taylor Ramsey

      I would love to see Karl Urban suit up again, but I have my doubts that it will happen.
      There is a fine line between filming the comic and making a good film in its own right and trying to please fans is the biggest mistake films can make. First, that is almost impossible and second, the dollars brought in by the fan base on these smaller properties is not worth courting. Really did like this film but just cant shake the feeling they should not have bothered.

  3. Jordan

    I am so happy that you DON’T like this film, Taylor. I feel justified I my hate. I am not a fan of action-only films to begin with, but this seemed like an excuse for gore. I found the movie awfully boring for exactly the reasons you said. I didn’t care about the characters. Good to hear the comics were better though.
    I would hate rated it 2/5. The only cool thing was the slow-mo… And even that was revolting. One of the worst movies I’ve seen in ages.
    Nice to see you writing an article again, Taylor. 🙂 it’s always a pleasure to read your work

  4. It is interesting way (in the review) to put that Dredd was not adapted well. Given what you have said about the way it was created (and the movie revenue numbers seem to bear this out given the monetary deficiencies) I would say that it is a simple problem of artistic vision.

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