Sep 232012

Did you see The Raid earlier this year? That Indonesian movie about a SWAT team trapped in a run-down building trying to take down some crime boss? Yeah, the one with the completely useless “Redemption” subtitle for the US release, causing almost every other reviewer to sound ridiculous when they tell you the name of the movie.

Yeah, if you saw that movie you already saw the new Judge Dredd movie, for the most part.

And if you saw The Raid, you need to see Dredd too for that very fact. Also for the fact that Dredd is pretty damn good.

I’m not too familiar with the Judge Dredd/2000 AD universe. I read a couple of comics back in the day to get a feel for it, and I saw that godawful Stallone movie from the 90s, but that’s about it. So I’m not coming into this with that sort of insider perspective. I can’t tell you if this is accurate beyond my basic, superficial opinion on the thing.

I know Judge Dredd gets accused of being a fascist wet dream– that sort of Dirty Harry ideal where the man of action doesn’t just face off with the criminal, he doles out government-sanction justice without that bureaucratic red tape. Then again, people who make those accusations of Dirty Harry are the ones who can’t see it for the satire it is, so based on that and based on what I saw in this movie I’m gonna assume Dredd’s been getting the same bad wrap.

Yeah, the concept of cop as judge-jury-executioner has those sorts of connotations, but in practice it’s clear that we’re dealing with some deliberate exaggeration. It’s a case of everything being taken to extremes– cities consisting of 800 million citizens, neighborhoods with 96% unemployment, fear of “mutants” living among us who are human but different– the ills of this world are your classic sci-fi extremes masquerading as real world problems, all decked out in CG and make up for easier consumption. It’s what most good sci-fi has done since the genre was born.

What Dredd’s getting at is the self consuming, self-fulfilling downward spiral that is this sort of shit. Kneejerk reactions beget kneejerk reactions. This world’s gone from nuclear war– the nigh-destruction of civilization as we know it. When that civilization is threatened, civilization reacts in irrational ways. Someone blows up your shit? You ramp up the security in ways that end up hurting your citizens more than the threats which you’re supposedly combating. The way the justice system works in this world is that sort of kneejerk reaction– as crime rises, it seems to free the justice system from expensive trials and the like, but said extreme practices create villains all too willing to fight back with even greater force. The criminals fight back, the Judges fight harder, and so on. Snake eating itself and all that shit.

That’s what’s going on in Dredd that makes it pretty damn relevant and not just another “stupid action movie.” Not that I’ve ever found that to be a bad thing– I don’t need a moral excuse for my action scenes– but it’s nice to know that this is more in line with Dirty Harry than it is with the rah-rah militarism of shit like Transformers.

That action’s solid. The use of slow motion actually makes sense in the context of the movie, since the illegal drug of choice makes the brain believe time passes slower than normal. When it isn’t going for those through-the-druggie’s-perspective scenes, the action’s fairly clearly shot. Not quite as good as the aforementioned The Raid, but not every movie can be that perfect.

The movie manages to have a sense of humor to it. Dredd’s a pretty good deadpan sort of character. He’s dead serious about what he’s saying, but you can’t help but laugh at that stark, blunt honesty at times. And I gotta give Karl Urban props for never taking that helmet off.

My only real beef with this movie is the lack of a suitably striking villain. Ma-Ma, the female drug lord behind all this mess, is cool and all, but she doesn’t stick in your brain like the best movie baddies. Let’s compare Dredd to its closest movie counterpart: RoboCop. Yeah, RoboCop takes on a bunch of OCP suits and the father from That 70s Show, but what comes to mind first when you think “RoboCop Bad Guy?” ED-209. It wasn’t the main bad guy– it was just a security drone used by him– but it has that sort of iconic oomph of the best villains.

Dredd’s lacking that. Ma-Ma needed a henchman who stood out like that. Going back to The Raid, Mad Dog was just that. He was the boss’ right hand man, but he’s who you remember the most. Dredd needed his own Mad Dog.

Yeah, this one’s gonna be on my 2012 best movie list.

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