Stallone’slegacy remains, but 2012’s Dredd is a rare rival to the ’90s original.
If you like movies that go on literally without interruption, you’ll be surprised how few of them there are, especially if you’re looking for movies that play on the big screen. Honestly, movies that keep plot, dialogue and drama to an absolute minimum, with the sole purpose of bringing as much gory mayhem to the screen as possible are my favorites.
Examples that perfected this style over four decades of action movie history include Predator (1980s), Speed (1990s) and Crank (2000s). Every now and then we get a gem like this, and the 2010s have not been the worst decade with the John Wick saga being another example, and of course Dredd.
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Karl Urban – Judge Dredd
Dredd is the second film adaptation of the popular comic book series. The first of these was Judge Stallone’s Dredd, a decent sci-fi action film that surprisingly managed to recreate the bizarre world of Megapolis One in all its grim glory. However, the film was not a total success, and its appeal to action fans was perhaps weakened by too much bland humor (Rob Schneider, nuff said) and misplaced drama. In 2012, Judge Dredd returned and Karl Urban took over from Stallone as director. Urban is a charismatic actor who almost always manages to impress in his roles, but he has yet to break through into the upper echelon of actors in action films. So it was nice to see him finally get offered a lead role in a leading role.
We return to Megacity One, an urban nightmare of 800 million people protected by giant walls of post-apocalyptic wasteland. Judges are the only power that maintains law and order. Judge Dredd and his intern Anderson are called to investigate a murder in the sprawling Peach Orchard apartment building, which is also home to the psychopathic drug lord Ma-Ma. She locks the tower and sends her gang out to kill two judges who are interfering with her business.
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Unlike the first film, Dredd omits almost all world building and takes place exclusively in a crushed skyscraper. The makers of Dredd have been accused of plagiarizing the Indonesian masterpiece Reid: Redemption, which was released a few months earlier, and the premise and general flow of the two films are indeed very similar. However, thanks to the Dredd production team, the script has been in the works for several years. Anyway, this problem doesn’t really matter, because both films are so great that you can forgive them anything.
Other similarities can be found between Dredd and another action classic, Robocop. There are even rumors that the Robocop script was originally intended for the Judge Dredd movie. Paul Verhoeven also admitted that the phrase Come Quietly or There Will Be Trouble came from a Dredd comic book. In the film, the allusion returns when Dredd utters this phrase, even adding You have 20 seconds to execute in a nod to Robocop’s ED-209. Good times for action nerds.
Dredd offers a simple scenario that realizes its full potential. The two judges are locked in a skyscraper with a small army of cartel assassins, both armed to the teeth. Dredd is judge, jury and executioner (mostly executioner), and as soon as he enters the building, it’s time for trial. There are no quiet moments in Dredd, it’s an hour and a half of non-stop chases and shootouts in hallways and stairwells.
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For the most part, the presentation of the action scenes is pleasantly old-fashioned. This is not a fantasy game, just firefights, battles and explosions, with some heavy weapons like miniguns and napalm bombs. Dredd is also one of the most violent films in the genre, with a level of gory violence rarely seen in action films on the big screen since the 1980s.
Dredd is both cynical and upbeat, and Urban plays it completely straight, without any comic relief and in an almost demonic voice. That is, he goes on the air several times and releases a lot of memorable singles, usually right before or after someone is murdered (crime is life, verdict is death!). Lena Headey from Game of Thrones stays on as Ma-Ma, the nemesis of Dredd, and instead of an angry, sadistic queen, she plays an angry, sadistic drug dealer.
Dredd is old-fashioned mayhem. It’s a gory, uncompromising spectacle and one of the great action films of the 21st century.
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