The famed British comic book character takes a second stab at Hollywood; this time with far, far superior results.
It’s the far future, and the world is overrun with crime. In this environment, the only practical means to enforce the law is by combining the roles of the police, judge, jury, and executioner. It’s refreshing that Dredd doesn’t make a big issue out this scenario, with long, droning speeches about the true cost of freedom and losing the sense of what’s right in a crazy world. Instead, it simply is; and when we explore this world with Dredd and his new partner Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), we come to see that this solution is the best one available to them.
It’s also nice that the screenwriter avoid the cliche of making the antagonist too big; as if, since this is a movie, the fate of the entire world must be at stake. Dredd faces off against MaMa (Lena Headey), a mid-level gang leader who rules over one skyscraper (kind of like Avon Barksdale in the first season of The Wire). When Dredd and Anderson arrive to investigate a murder, MaMa locks down the complex, forcing the two judges to run the gauntlet up to her hideout.
Dredd is tough but fair. He is the ideal cop; throwing himself into the fire, and always doing what’s right. All that, and he never even takes off his helmet. There’s an inherent silliness to a character like that; just as there is of, say, Batman, and the trick for filmmakers is to find the balance. You can’t make the entire thing into a joke, but neither can you pretend that any of this is deadly serious. Nolan found that balance in Batman Begins and its sequels; and Pete Travis found it with Dredd.
Dredd is a bit more on the colorful side than Batman; but its protagonist is a little wackier, so that’s necessary to reach the middle. Dredd is a satisfying action movie. The kills are just a little over-the-top, but the enclosed setting keeps things visceral and unpredictable. Dredd isn’t a superhero, he’s a cop; and even the amateur gang-banger with a gun is a significant threat. Yes, there are no surprises, but it’s a fun trip and it keeps a quick pace (the run-time is a lean 90 minutes), so you won’t get bored.
Dredd is a movie made by people that know what they’re doing. They look at a property and ask, ‘what do people like about this?’ And when they get their answer, they say, ‘okay, let’s do that.’ There’s no egotistical desire to ‘improve’ the original, nor any drive to make it more marketable. They just wanted to make a fun, exciting action film; and they succeeded.