Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fantastic Fest 2012 Review: DREDD 3D

Directed by: Peter Travis
Written by: Alex Garland
Starring: Karl Urban, Lena Heady, and Olivia Thirlby
Synopsis: Two Judges are trapped in a tower block and must fight through 200 floors of thugs to take down the head of a ruthless drug gang.

Real talk guys. I don't quite remember the original Sylverster Stallone movie, JUDGE DREDD. In addition, I have paid zero attention to the comics, so I'm just coming to this Karl Urban movie with the most open of minds. I was even down with the idea of 3D. While the movie lacks any of the satirical aspects of the original comics, it's still a unique futurist action movie.  For anyone that have seen this year's excellent THE RAID: REDEMPTION, the set up will seem familiar where a group (or at least in this case, a duo) of cops are trapped in a building where everyone has the incentive to kill them and where our heroes have to make their way to to the top to defeat the big boss at the end. The movie uses 3D in a very creative manner in conjunction with some plot-related slow motion work. Combined with the action, this movie is a super violent fun time at the theater.

As I mentioned before, I'm not the most well-versed Judge Dredd fan, so I appreciated some of the set up of the world. I understand that Judge Dredd as a character and comic is supposed to be a satirical take on the justice system and the hypocrisy and faults of it, but here we get very little of that. The movie is very lean in that the world building and the set up for the premise of the movie are done and over within 20 minutes, and we begin the bulk of the action of the movie right away.

The cast is pretty minimal, but all of the leads handled themselves well in their respective role. Karl Urban rocks the Dredd scowl like a bad ass. One of the few decent Q&A questions was when someone asked him if he got cramps from making the "Judge Dredd face" for so long. Urban of course, answered no because that's just the kind of bad-ass he is. Judge Dredd as a character is pretty bland. You never learn too much of his back story, why he is the why he is, and you never get to see his face which The characters is full of one-liners some of which are pretty questionable in my opinion, but you see he's got a reputation of being the best of the best in carrying out the law.

I'll fully admit that my recent watching/reading of Game of Thrones might be coloring my perception here, but I thought that Lena Heady as Mama, a tough as nails former prostitute-turned-drug lord, was pretty fun to watch. Yeah, she has that Queen Cersei look in this movie as well, but there is nothing but cold and calculating underneath that messy hair and the scars that she has. Going off Mama, the drug that she creates, Slow-Mo, gives the filmmakers a great reason to use slow motion during specific scenes to recreate the effect of this new drug, which slows down the brain's processing speed by 1/100th of the time of the normal time. If you have seen any of the marketing material I'm sure you've seen some of it, which is one of the more distinct aspects of the movie.

Of course, while I did enjoy the hell out of the movie, and I do recommend it, I would say that buyer beware in regards to the actual story. I hate to say phrases like "turn your brain off" or "mindless action movies" to describe anything.  The filmmakers, however, didn't think of a better line for the characters to say instead of sounding like generic video game characters half of the time and kept the complexity of the plot to a bare minimum. Also, keep in mind that the story has a tendency of being a bit episodic. It's nothing nearly as bad as THE HURT LOCKER, but every time that there was an action sequence that came to an end, the characters almost seemed to pause in the context of the story like they were waiting for a new "level" to appear. This lead to the movie having a disjointed feel but the writer did say that there was a lot of parts that were arranged and re-arranged, which would explain some of this. As a final criticism, I would say that the slow motion got a little ridiculous at the end. "Less is more" is the lesson I would get out of this movie. There were too many times where this technique was applied in places of the story that did not benefit from it and made the slow-motion scenes later in the movie a little more grating to watch.

This is a fine movie to go see on the big screen just for the sheer fun of seeing dudes get shot in slow motion in 3D. While there are some plot related issues, I can honestly forgive a lot of them since I had such a good time with it. Does that excuse this or any action movies from being a little more "brainy" with their stories? No, but I still think that there is an even better Judge Dredd movie out there. For now, we can all forget that Rocky was ever a super-cop from the future.

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