Review: Dredd (2012)–Gritty Cyberpunk Action

Dredd

Dredd (2012): Gritty Cyberpunk Action

Judge Dredd is a Cyberpunk action film from 2012 that was written and produced by Alex Garland, and directed by Pete Travis. Based on the comic strip Judge Dredd, Karl Urban stars as a judge in the law enforcement system where police are judge, jury, and executioners all in one.

Set in a vast, dystopian metropolis called Mega-City One, Dredd and his apprentice partner Judge Anderson are called to a 200-story megabuilding to deal with its local drug ring and their leader, Ma-Ma. 

Setting the Cyberpunk scene for Dredd (2012)

The movie begins with a classic line from the wonderfully gruff voice by Urban:

“America is an irradiated wasteland. Within it lies a city. Outside the boundary walls, a desert. A cursed earth. Inside the walls, a cursed city, stretching from Boston to Washington D.C. An unbroken concrete landscape. 800 million people living in the ruin of the old world and the mega structures of the new one. Mega blocks. Mega highways. Mega City One. Convulsing. Choking. Breaking under its own weight. Citizens in fear of the street. The gun. The gang. Only one thing fighting for order in the chaos: the men and women of the Hall of Justice. Juries. Executioners. Judges.”

Generally I hate exposition like this at the beginning of a movie, but this one gets a pass from me just because Urban’s voice is that good. We are immediately afterwards treated to some classic cyberpunk scenes of the new normal of the future, megastructures with megablocks and giant mazes of superhighways. Unfortunately, this is all that we will see in the movie of the rest of the city.

Megacity one Dredd

A Cyberpunk Highway Chase in Dredd (2012)

Any great action Cyberpunk film has a high-speed motorway chase and Judge Dredd delivers right out of the gate. This was one of my favorite scenes, to see Dredd on his motorbike pursuing three felons in a van speeding along one of the highways. 

Dredd lawmaster bike

In a subsequent scene we see a criminal run away through a mall, with fresh bodies lying dead on the floor scattered throughout. This struck me as subtly communicating to the viewer how life here is very cheap indeed. This is reinforced when we later see in the same setting a few cleaning robots come out to clear the blood and mess  while a PDA cheerfully announces that “the mall will be reopened again in 30 minutes.” Commerce!

Dredd cleanup

Dredd (2012)’s main dystopian setting: Peach Trees

This introduction eventually leads the story to the mega-structure of “Peach Trees”, where the rest of the movie takes place. The main antagonist, Ma-Ma, is introduced early on when she has a couple rival gang members skinned alive and thrown over the railing. She controls the entire complex, and the inequality and desperation is visible.

homeless dredd

“Homeless junkie, will debase self for credits” shows the desperation of peach trees. The rookie reading the stats of the crime and unemployment levels in the building add to it.

Dredd (2012)’s Special Effects: Slow Motion

One aspect of this film that sets it apart from other Cyberpunk films in its genre is the incredible slow-motion scenes when people inhale a drug called Slo-Mo. It gives us a true impression of what it must be like to be on the drug, while at the same time giving it a distinctly artistic feel to the film. I personally loved it.

Slo-mo Dredd

It can be used either to enjoy the simple things, like a bubble bath…

Slow mo action Dredd

Or enhance action scenes from unsuspecting guards who also happened to be using the drug. Heh.

Positive Elements of Dredd (2012)

Another thing this movie did very well is sustain the suspense. There is a good balance between guns blazing and quiet moments where the audience waits. 

The music in this film is incredible. Hard rock, heavy hitting, it’s actually done by Hans Zimmer–one of his more electronic and industrial tracks I’ve heard from him.

Finally, Karl Urban’s gruff voice and cool attitude personifies Dredd perfectly. He was a great choice to be cast in this role and does an excellent job.

Negative Elements of Dredd (2012)

There was a small element of supernatural where the rookie has a psychic ability as a result of a certain mutant strain that she possesses. I felt that adding the “mutant” aspect to the movie really wasn’t necessary, but it also didn’t detract from the film itself either.

Upon first viewing I was disappointed that the film took place almost exclusively in Peach Trees, and that it seemed like more of an action Rambo-style cat and mouse movie than anything else. They had such great scenes in the mall, overviews of the megacity, there was a lot of potential here. Nonetheless, upon a second viewing, there’s a lot more here than meets the eye, and if you go into the film knowing that it all takes place within Peach Trees, you might not be disappointed as I was.

Dredd (2012) Final Verdict: 9/10

I thoroughly enjoyed Dredd, and it’s a film you can watch over and over again, for the characters, the music, the incredible set design and costumes, and the over-the-top action sequences. The end is somewhat predictable, but still very much badass, with some surprises that are sprinkled within. I also greatly enjoyed seeing how well the rookie was able to take care of herself–this isn’t another damsel in distress movie. Despite the fact that it all takes place in the same location, if you take this movie for what it is–a Cyberpunk action flick–you definitely won’t be disappointed. I highly recommend seeing Dredd if you haven’t already. 

2 thoughts on “Review: Dredd (2012)–Gritty Cyberpunk Action”

  1. When I saw that you posted a review Dredd (2012), I was stoked. I’ve really enjoyed your writing (in the short time since I found your site) and Dredd has managed to weasel its way on to my top-ten-films-of-all-time list since I watched it several times about 6-7 years ago (yes, after seeing it for the first time, I immediately watched it twice more that weekend.)

    I have to admit that, while I certainly enjoyed reading your review, I was a bit disappointed that you stuck with kind of a surface-level scan of the film instead of diving deeper. It’s really just because of how rich this film is and how deep the rabbit hole goes once you start to dig.

    Anyway, to stick with what you covered, I totally agree that intro-exposition sucks almost 100% of the time. It works here though – partially because Karl Urban’s voice rocks so hard – as it does a perfect job of setting the ambiance for what you’re about to see. The rest of the intro solidifies the main elements that 1) Mega-City One is a dystopian shit-hole, 2) crime is pretty much everywhere because it’s probably the easiest way to get by and have your life not totally suck, and 3) Judges are fucking ruthless.

    Going from this to Peach Trees, in my opinion, is effective because after seeing the scale of poverty, crime, violence, and the law enforcement set out to deal with it, we are now shown a microcosm of it, to be explored in an exquisite level of detail that will continue drawing on that introduction as we see individual people interact with it. In my opinion, it’s absolutely masterful. The slo-mo drug use scenes contribute to this as well. Things slow to a crawl, colors get bright in a way I haven’t seen since tripping acid in the late 80s, yet it only lasts for a few seconds. When you come out of it, you get slingshot back into reality. Just more gritty detail.

    I generally like Hans Zimmer’s score because they seem to fit their films incredibly well. This film is no exception as I think Zimmer truly captures the elements we’ve talked about up until this point. There are of course more educated music people who have review this so I’m not going to pretend like I understand composition.

    As for your negative comment about the mutant thing, I had no experience with the source material in 2000AD comics, so this didn’t strike me as odd. I’d like to know more about what’s going on here. At any rate, the only negative things I can say are not directly related to the film itself, This includes things like how poorly the film was advertised and, when it was, how misrepresented and badly marketed it was. After all that and the studio wonders why it did poorly at the box office. Go figure.

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    1. Hi Clocutron,

      First of all, thanks so much for being a fan and regular reader of the blog! Knowing there are people like you reading what I’m putting out there helps remind me that throwing my work out into the digital void isn’t a complete waste of time after all. 🙂 For any film that is someone’s top 10 favorites of all time, it will undeniably be easy to feel frustrated that more analysis isn’t attributed to it. But then if I gave to all movies I review the same treatment as, say, my deep dive into the Matrix trilogy (which is in my top 3 favorite movies of all time and probably a pretty obvious inspiration for this) then I would probably never post anything because there would always be too much to say and discuss.
      I agree with your point that going from outside to inside Peach Trees was very effective. The slo-mo was also so well done, and really unexpected when you go into watching this movie for the first time.
      As for the mutant comment, I am unfamiliar with the comics too, but any time there’s a mutant ability aspect of a film, it puts it more into fantasy than science fiction for me. I love superhero films and for the most part like a good X-Men movie, but if I’m looking for future tech dystopia, I want my tech to be what almost seems fantastical, not mutant genes that magically give psychic abilities. That being said, I liked the extra aspect of it in the film, but I would have liked it better without–for example if the rookie held her own and did all she could without the extra psychic help would have been even cooler. Or she could have been a hacking expert, for instance.
      Anyways, seems like we agree that the movie was pretty bad-ass, and thanks again for you comment! Feel free to comment again in later or earlier posts. 🙂

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