Welcome to Mega City One: ‘Dredd’ (2012) Review

Posted in The Screening Room by - March 01, 2017

If the recent success of the John Wick franchise and other skillfully made and gloriously choreographed action films serve as any indication, we seem to be in something of an action movie renaissance. As more and more studios, producers, and directors realize that well-paced, long take, elaborate action sequences are appreciated and can help to distract from a film’s other flaws, the better action films will get. Then again, most studios playing the summer blockbuster game have little reason to go down this route when they can instead rely on tried and tested jump cuts and copious amounts of CGI. After all, pursuing a Keanu Reeves level performance requires more time and money than studios are willing to invest towards training an actor to perform long and complex fight scenes. But, the few companies willing to provide this level of action cinema excellence are only bound to grow with success, both critical and commercial, achieved by films like John Wick.

Dredd, a 2012 action movie based on the long-running and acclaimed Judge Dredd comic book, is exactly the type of action film that the derivative and stagnating genre need right now. Following the eponymous Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), a super-cop with immense legal power in the corrupt and crime-ridden Mega-City One, Dredd uses a tight story with minimal exposition to create an economical and entertaining viewing experience. In post-apocalyptic America, the last dredges of humanity live in densely packed megalopolises across the country. Mega City One, the worst of the bunch, is where only the Judges, highly-trained soldiers of justice, maintain law and order. When training new recruit (who also happens to be a mutant psychic) Judge Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), Dredd responds to a triple homicide in one of the gang-controlled skyscraper apartments that populate the city. Cut off from backup, and with no way out, Dredd must survive the wrath of gang leader Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) while trying to keep his talented, yet paralyzingly compassionate recruit alive.

Set in what is ultimately a big apartment building, Dredd uses the tight corners and narrow hallways to its overall advantage. Armed with a voice-controlled cyber-pistol, Dredd fights his way up the building with a variety of colorfully creative ammunition rounds. Explosive, stun, incendiary, and other rounds add a dash of variety to what could have otherwise been a simple run-and-gun action film. Although to some extent, that is what this movie is – a run-and-gun survival thriller. But with a compelling premise and source material, Dredd offers a refreshing twist on traditional shoot ’em up films. The world of Mega City One feels both plausible and strikes concerning parallels to our own. Through excellent set design, costuming, props, and visual effects, post-apocalyptic America doesn’t seem like such a far-fetched idea. Corralling 800 million people into one city inevitably results in a skyrocketing crime rate and the lethal and somewhat effective methods of stopping individual crime exercised by the Judges is admirable (and to some extent depressing), yet, as the film demonstrates time and time again, futile.

Cassandra’s desire to “make a difference” and the film’s demonstration that this is, because of the degree to which the city is suffering, impossible is tragically reflective of our responses to idealism in society today. We tell young and wide-eyed youth who have an urge to leave their mark on the world and change it for the better that what they want to accomplish is impossible and that they should just give up now because the world’s just too messed up to save. Though themes of crime, the lethality of justice, and overpopulation are much more prominent within the film, Dredd does not neglect the more intimate social conundrums of its world; what’s more, it makes a point of underlining the parallel between Mega City One’s cynicism and our own today.

As a film, it is not only thematically but choreographically complex. Though it doesn’t feature the gorgeous long-take gun-fu shootouts of The Matrix or John Wick, Dredd uses cuts to circumvent the tight corridors of the building and maintain an exhilarating yet steady pace to showcase its complex and visceral fight scenes. The urban backdrop of the apartment slums allows for a blank canvas for the tasteful gore and spectacular explosions of the action sequences to shine in stark contrast to its surroundings. The added element of running out of ammo while trapped in the building conveniently allows for a welcome surfeit of hand-to-hand combat to vary the pace and visual splendor of the fight scenes.

Karl Urban – a long time fan of the Judge Dredd comics – insisted on keeping the mask on for the entire film just like in the comics (unlike the Stallone Judge Dredd), and offers up the most enjoyable performance of the movie. His signature Dredd scowl perfectly underscores the angry black and red of his helmet and suit and gives the character an intimidation factor that correctly maintains the line between scary and silly. The rough growl of Dredd also gives way for some juxtaposition with Thirlby’s Cassandra Anderson whose mannerisms are soft and unimposing but whose eyes feature a potential for her to go to more sinister lengths to get the job done.

Similar to its stylistic cousins John Wick and The Raid series, Dredd also features a marvelous soundtrack that perfectly compliments the film’s rapid pace and gritty environment. Memorable melodies crafted by futuristic synths are suitably paired with deep bass lines and hard, rasping percussion. The opening narration by Urban in his dark, animalistic growl sets the scene for the film flawlessly, and its subsequent and smooth transition into a riveting bike chase set to the score’s central theme is enough to hook any action aficionado indefinitely.

Though Dredd is now something of a cult classic among comic and action fans, it, unfortunately, did poorly at the box office as a result of its both non-existent and, when apparent, terrible pro-3D marketing. Much like the excellent Tron: Legacy, the Dredd sequel will most likely never happen. It’s important to note, however, that potential franchises have ended on worse notes and though Dredd 2 may never happen, Dredd itself, is a near-perfect testament to economic storytelling, well-choreographed exhilarating action, and faithful adaption.

This post was written by

When not drowning in school work or ignoring social obligations he enjoys watching movies on just about anything. Currently making his way through the cinema classics he hopes to one day write a novel, but he’ll probably end up playing The Witcher 3 instead.

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