Posted on July 17, 2015
TL;DR Summary: One of the best science fiction movies in recent memory. Up there with Fury Road and Interstellar.
I was not a fan of the comic book, in the sense that I didn’t even know it existed until the 1995 Sylvester Stallone movie, a film so awkward and embarrassing for everyone involved (including the audience) that it left a sour association with the whole franchise in my mind. So I was confused when I heard they were remaking it with Karl Urban and Lena Headey back in 2012.
Why am I talking about this in 2015, three years after it was released to a disappointing $13M domestic gross? Because it’s one of those movies that was punished for being a great remake of a terrible film. It’s also one of those movies, like Scott Pilgrim and Big Trouble In Little China, that people either get 100 percent or don’t get at all. And since I am in the former group, I have a tendency to break this one out every now and then watch it again.
Why is it so much better than the original? Choices.
Where Stallone chose to go over the top (funny, I just remembered he starred in a movie that was actually called “Over The Top”) with his portrayal of Judge Dredd, Urban wisely understands that even though he is the driver of all the action in the film, he’s not the protagonist. He’s a force of nature. So his choice to play Dredd as a less mechanized version of RoboCop is right on the money.
He also never takes off the helmet which is important because Dredd NEVER removes the helmet. Nerd rage over.
Likewise, Lena Headey realizes that even though she is the immovable object to Dredd’s irresistible force, she’s not the bad guy. Peach Trees is. Poverty is. The megablocks are. She and Dredd are just a pair of protons being forced together in the super furnace of a very bad situation. There’s no chance of victory for anybody. The only question is whether anyone will escape with their dignity in tact.
That’s where the indispensable and nearly unpronounceable Olivia Thirlby (seriously, try saying that name three times fast) comes into play. She’s the hopeful penitent who is on the journey at the heart of this picaresque.
And this is another decision (probably made by director Pete Travis) that helps the movie: being a mutant with psychic powers, Thirlby’s Judge Anderson cannot wear a helmet. This makes her the face of the protagonist forces just as Headey’s horribly scarred countenance is the face of the antagonist forces. These two women, going against one another as opposing forces orbiting in Dredd’s orbit are what drive the story to viewers’ hearts.
One final thing: the movie is shot with an over saturated color palette that implies an almost constant heat haze and the scenes depicting what it’s like to take the Slo-Mo drug are beyond beautiful and certainly more beautiful than you expect in an action movie.