Lionsgate // 2012 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // January 8th, 2013
Justice is coming.
Sure, you've heard of Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Spiderman, and the X-Men. But have you heard of Judge Dredd? The character -- now in its 35th year -- was given his first cinematic incarnation in 1995. To tell you how well that film was received, you need only look at how long it took Dredd to make it back to the big screen. Karl Urban picks up the helmet for the blistering cop's return in Dredd, now available in 3D Blu-ray care of Lionsgate.
In the future, there is only one kind of peacekeeper: the Judges, lawmen, and lawwomen (lawpeople?) who are judge and jury to those suspected of crimes against humanity. Judge Joseph Dredd (Karl Urban, Star Trek) is in the middle of assessing a new rookie named Anderson (Olivia Thirlby, The Darkest Hour), who has failed the test to become a Judge but possesses psychic abilities that make her invaluable to the force. Dredd and Anderson are called in to the Peachtrees, one of the city's mega-blocks (enormous apartment buildings) run by the psychotic pusher Ma-Ma (Lena Headey, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), a heartless criminal who controls the new hallucinogenic drug Slo-Mo. Ma-Ma is not happy to have rivals -- much less the law -- invade her precious turf. Once the two law enforcement agents enter the complex, the doors are sealed off and steel windows shuttered, trapping our heroes inside and pitting them against Ma-Ma's band of vicious thugs in a fight to the death.
There is a good chance I'm the only Judge Dredd apologist on the planet. The 1995 Sylvester Stallone movie is by no means flawless entertainment, but it is a heckuva lot of fun, offering up mid-'90s goofiness and a slurring ripped Stallone. Looking at the film today, it seems almost quaint by comparison. The special effects range from good to bad, the performances are all over the map, and the film's tone swings like a pendulum from oddball comedy (Two words: Rob Schneider) to bloody action. And yet Judge Dredd is never boring. Alas, this box office bomb was lambasted by critics and is now universally considered one of the biggest comic book movie flops in the last twenty years. So hated is Judge Dredd that Hollywood has steered clear of bringing this relatively obscure anti-hero back to the screen for almost two decades. Until now.
Walking into Dredd I expected...well, I wasn't sure. Something along the lines of the Stallone movie? Maybe a film with a super serious tone, ala The Dark Knight? Possibly a little bit of both? What Dredd ends up being is a darkly comedic, tonally serious action flick operating on a much smaller scale. Whereas something like Marvel's The Avengers looks like it cost around two billion dollars to make, Dredd feels like it was conceived and executed on the craft service budget of a big studio production. Confined almost exclusively to an enormous skyscraper (much like the Asian action flick The Raid: Redemption), Dredd is a tight, taut, and thrilling experience.
Make no mistake, this is not a fun comic book movie in the vein of Batman or Iron Man. It can be quite gruesome, even malicious at times, but offers a winking undercurrent to show it's never taking itself too seriously. Karl Urban -- one of the most underrated character actors in Hollywood -- does right by Dredd with a nasty growl that rivals Christian Bale's gravel-voiced Dark Knight. Urban never makes Dredd sympathetic or even very likable; the character is a lot like Robocop in that his primary goal is to uphold the law at any costs. Writer Alex Garland (28 Days Later) and director Pete Travis (Vantage Point) were smart to give Dredd a sidekick by way of Anderson, who allows viewers an opportunity to empathize with these protagonists. Thirlby is the softer side of Urban, and her presence makes sure the movie doesn't devolve into and endless barrage of blood, bullets, and explosions.
And boy oh boy, do the bullets and blood fly. Dredd is a non-stop battle between the forces of good and evil. Unlike its predecessor, it has no interest in exploring what made Dredd the super cop he is today; he just is. Granted, there are a few touching moments between Dredd and Anderson -- displaying almost a father and daughter relationship -- but we're more focused on watching Ma-Ma trying to annihilate our heroes as they climb ever higher into the Peachtree complex. Along the way heads explode, concrete walls are decimated, and in one particularly disturbing sequence, three bodies are stripped of their skins and dropped from a few hundred floors up. The Rocketeer this ain't.
Superhero movies have saturated the market so heavily you can hardly survive a weekend at the multiplex without running into at least one masked vigilante. It's refreshing to come across a movie like Dredd, as uber-violent escapism. Unfortunately, it too wound up being a box office flop, all but killing off the chance we'll ever see this character again.
Presented in 2.40:1/1080p high definition widescreen, this combo pack offers Dredd in both its 3D and 2D theatrical incarnations. Although the setting is gritty and grimm, the visual quality is excellent, even if much of the film is bathed in darkness and shadow. The transfers are exceptionally clean without any major defects marring the image. The DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio track is, quite frankly, awesome. Dredd features a hail of bullets, explosions, and screaming, all of which pour through the surround speakers with bombastic intensity. Without the NeoX 11.1 home theatre system you won't get the full effect, but this is still one of the best mixes I've heard in a long while. Also included are a Dolby 5.1 mix in Spanish and a 2.0 Stereo track in English, as well as English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
Bonus features include a couple of mid-length featurettes on the making of the film and the history of the character ("Mega-City Masters: 35 Years of Judge Dredd," "Day of Chaos: The Visual Effects of Dredd"), a few brief EPK vignettes ("Dredd Featurette," "Dredd's Gear," "The 3rd Dimension," "Welcome to Peachtrees"), a motion comic prequel, a theatrical trailer, digital copy, and UltraViolet download.
I found Dredd to be an engaging comic book flick. Clocking in at just over an hour and a half, this lean mean sensation machine should satiate action fan's appetite, and makes a great double feature paired with the awesome Punisher: War Zone.
Judge Dredd is found not guilty! It IS the law!
Review content copyright © 2013 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* 2D Version
* Motion Comic
* Digital Copy
* UltraViolet Download