DM Haight

 

In the last decade, we’ve seen numerous remakes pop up on the silver screen. Among them, Conan the Barbarian, Total Recall, Fright Night, Clash of the Titans, and many others. The two most recent, Conan and Recall (excluding Fright Night, which was release on the same day as Conan) we remakes of Schwarzenagger films. Now it seems, with the lack luster performances of both Arnold remakes, that Hollywood has decided to jump off the back of another 90’s action hero—Stalone. Dredd will no doubt generate more revenue than Conan or Recall, but the stench of remake is embedded at the film’s core. And it is not that the film in inherently bad, it just didn’t need to be made. In the film, the landscape of America, and the world has changed. Instead of the forests and rivers lining large cities like New York and Boston, we see deserts and dust slowing taking over mega cities spread over hundreds of miles. Entire communities are contained inside enormous building, packed in like rodents and rotting from the inside out due to poor living conditions, poverty, and organized crime. In this landscape the Judges are law, and they patrol the cities, containing outbreaks of chaos. But there is corruption, and there is a lot of money behind that corruption. It’s the same old story told a hundred times in almost every cop drama, scifi or otherwise: A hardass cop is given a rookie who doesn’t quite fit in, gets sent to do a small containment job, which turns into a big containment job, which results in the two fighting for their lives, while also fighting for law and order.

But why is this a bad thing? Well, it’s not the premise that makes or breaks it, it’s the fact that it’s a remake that hasn’t found a way to grow out of the clichés and genre pot holes to make itself important. We seem to be stuck in a rut that is perpetuated by a success from twenty years ago. Dredd carries with it a weight of inconsistencies, and fails at creating an entertaining film, which will likely spawn three or four sequels. The issue is that Dredd had nothing new to say. It’s not only a part of the clichéd cop drama, but it also fell into a pit of dystopian turmoil, which is ever deepening. Hollywood is actually to blame for Dredd’s underwhelming story. They have been pumping out dystopian/ post-apocalyptic movies in such gross quantities that Dredd just doesn’t stand out.

Karl Urban is fine in his role, even if his expression doesn’t change and his part doesn’t actually entail much acting. His grimace is perfect throughout the film. The helmet is what hinders him. He doesn’t have the stage presence to hold the shortening attention spans of moviegoers. But the role doesn’t give him much room to work with. A good story sees the main character build upon prior experiences and put them to use, either making themselves better or worse. Judge Dredd doesn’t do that. He has all the experience, he knows how to take care of himself, he doesn’t need anyone. He has no weakness, which kind of makes him a boring character. Why would I want to sit through a film for an hour and a half knowing I wasn’t going to leave having felt like a story was told? It’s just one of many issues Dredd has.

One of two performances that stood out was Olivia Thirlby (formerly of Juno fame). She fits Judge Anderson well, and lifts from the rom-com mold into action quite well. She actually grows as a character and the film uses her story as a subplot. That’s another problem—the story of growth is a sub-plot. Thirlby is cast perfectly, but she is underplayed at times, leaving us wandering throughout the mega projects with Dredd leading the way down hall after hall, with little narrative rope to hang onto between gun fights. The other performance that helps stabilize the film is Lena Headly, of Game of Thrones fame. Her character, Ma-Ma, is a drug dealer who specializes in a synthesized inhalant that slows the process of time to the user. Headly does another great job in her role as the villain, a place she is taking root. She is believable, and a good counterweight to Urban. They are both unyielding, but for very different reasons: law and order vs. control and fear.

It’s this control and fear that made this film possible, however. Dredd truly isn’t a bad film, it just isn’t a film we needed. The days when a sequel or two a year are no more. We see more and more reboots, and trilogies becoming sagas, and never ending remakes of films from less than a quarter century ago. Dredd has great effects, fine acting, and the talent to pull off anything. It fails because it can’t become its own film, being too busy trying to be a film from the annals of 90s B-movie history.

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