Reboots have a reputation for being a sign that Hollywood is running out of ideas and will milk a property for every penny. Sometimes this can be true, but more often than not reboots tend to be fairly successful.
Just look at Christopher Nolan with Batman, J.J. Abrams with Star Trek, “X-Men: First Class” and I’ll even throw in Martin Campbell’s “Casino Royale,” even though every time we get a new actor as James Bond you could call it a reboot.
There are even the reboots that no one thought would be remotely successful, with the recent “21 Jump Street” being a prime example.
The film I’m reviewing this week, “Dredd,” is an example of a franchise relaunch that couldn’t help but improve over the original “Judge Dredd” starring Sylvester Stallone from the mid 90s.
Set in a futuristic America where the country is one big city that 800 million people call home, the only group able to put a small dent in the 17,000 crimes committed each day is the Judges of the Justice Department.
The individuals that comprise the Justice Department are Judge, Jury and Executioner and Judge Dredd is the best.
This and any other necessary background is given right off the bat and luckily there’s not too much exposition you need. “Dredd” is about as streamlined as you can get. There’s not a lot of fat, but for me the hour and a half run time felt like it went by at a slow rate.
The pacing isn’t wall-to-wall. Some quite and tense moments really bring out some character moments that make the movie even more worthwhile.
The heart of this movie isn’t in the gruff, dry protagonist of Judge Dredd, played by Karl Urban (“Star Trek”), but in the newest Judge recruit, Anderson, a mutant psychic who accompanies Dredd on what looks like a routine triple homicide.
Their investigation at a giant slum called “Peach Trees” turns into a suicide mission to stop gang lord Ma Ma (Lena Headey, “Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles”) from distributing a new drug called “Slo-Mo.”
This set up makes the movie a hybrid of “Training Day” and the recent “The Raid: Redemption.” Unfortunately, even though I like “Dredd” more than “The Raid,” having the two films released so close together really works against it. I couldn’t help but think of the similarities while watching it, which dampened my enthusiasm for it. I can only hope that “Dredd” went into production first.
Like I said, the heart of the film is in Anderson, played by Olivia Thirlby, as she experience a typical day in the life of a Judge as she tries to prove her worth. The climb up the slum chips slowly away at her, hardening her and how she comes out of the ordeal is a real treat.
I’ve always been a fan of cop movies that partner the grizzled veteran with the newbie and the chemistry between Urban and Thirlby is by far the best aspect of the film. It provides some great moments of dry humor in an otherwise bleak story and setting.
It’s unavoidable, but Urban’s take as Dredd is going to be compared to Christian Bale’s Batman. Both are in the same realm of “gritty” crime fighters, who growl when they speak and happen to wear masks. However, the difference is Batman has more depth than we ever get from Dredd.
We don’t know why Dredd is a Judge or what his motives are. That’s really the biggest sacrifice the movie makes for being so streamlined. If there is a sequel, and judging (ha) by how many people were in my 7:30 p.m. showing Friday night, there likely won’t, I would hope it attempts to flesh him out.
“Dredd” is a sci-fi, action movie that doesn’t put much emphasis on either genre. The future setting is there to let you know when the movie takes place, but it’s not used as a story telling crutch and the action isn’t present just to mark off time between story beats.
The action is brutal and efficient and some kills are more clever than you’d usually get from a typical sci-fi/action flick.
If you’ve seen “The Raid: Redemption” anytime recently, I’d recommend waiting awhile to see this film. Otherwise, get out and see it as long it’s not in 3D. It’s obvious which scenes int the movie were designed for the use of 3D, but as usual in my experience, it doesn’t benefit the movie at all. Also, the extra $2.50 for the 3D glasses at the Jonesboro Malco is not worth it.