DREDD Review

     July 12, 2012


Grit, for lack of a better word, is good.  This at least seems to be the prevailing wisdom when it comes to action movies.  But is gritty good enough?  Pete TravisDredd seems to think so.  The director has designed a down-and-dirty future where nothing shines, everything is grimy, and life is cheap.  Into this world he throws a memorable albeit simple protagonist whose very voice emanates ugly violence and wholesale slaughter.  Dredd swings between a single-minded drive to use your adrenal gland like a chew toy and a one-dimensional ploy to play into a shallow bloodlust.  What it lacks in claustrophobia, a compelling plot, dangerous stakes, and a compelling antagonist, it makes up for with loud noises, blown-apart bodies, and a killer performance from Karl Urban.

In the post-apocalyptic Mega-City One, the law is handled by Judges.  Masked by heavy helmets and heavier armor, they are judge, jury, and executioner.  They are cold, merciless, efficient, and Judge Dredd (Urban) is probably the best one working the harsh streets.  He’s forced to play evaluator to rookie Judge, Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who isn’t skilled in the ways of murdering criminals, but makes up for it in psychic powers.  Like the world’s most dangerous DMV employee, Dredd takes Anderson out on a road test to see if she has what it takes to be a judge.  Both of their skills are tested when they become trapped in the Peach Trees tower and the target of the building’s ruthless druglord, Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), who is manufacturing the hottest drug on the streets, Slo-Mo.  Slo-mo gives the sensation that time “is running at 1% speed”, and provides Travis an excuse to run a faster frame-rate like he’s doing a camera test.


Once Dredd and Anderson become trapped in the Peach Trees, there’s not much more room for plot development.  It never feels like the two are in any actual danger, and the only ones at the mercy of Ma-Ma’s gang are the building’s innocent, law-abiding citizens.  The Judges don’t seem too bothered by the civilians getting mowed down around them, which speaks to the film’s moral principal: Dredd isn’t about life.  It’s about death.  The faceless thugs are no match for Dredd’s experience (and super gun that has all kinds of fun ammunition) and Cassandra has a singular survival skill, so we don’t have to become invested in their fates.  Thugs exist to be killed, Judges exist to do the killing.

For Travis, the memorable moments come from Dredd’s personality and the action scenes.  But when you bank your entire movie on the action, you have to be certain that the action always works.  To his credit, Travis uses the Slo-Mo sparingly, and uses it to great effect in one of the bloody gunfights.  I admire his willingness to mix up his set pieces, but some fall completely flat.  His greatest moments come when he’s willing to balance character moments with the violence.  We may not be worried about Dredd and Cassandra, but the actors make us cheer for them.  But when Ma-Ma is firing three chain guns at Dredd, it’s just loud noises, spastic extras getting riddled by bullets, spewing CGI blood, and Dredd running away from gunfire.  It comes back to how we know these characters are never in danger, so watching them play defensive never comes off as particularly interesting.


It’s when Dredd and Cassandra are offense that the movie comes alive.  The movie isn’t about passive survival.  It’s about fighting to the death, namely the death of Ma-Ma’s army of thugs.  Setting Dredd loose gives Urban time to shine and prove to the audience that this is a character worthy of his own franchise.  Dredd never removes his bulky helmet, so Urban has to work with only the lower half of his face and the inflection in his voice.  He does it wonderfully.  The character easily transitions from wry to sardonic to serious to  authoritative to protective to weary.  It’s all the ingredients we want from an old-fashioned bad-ass, and Urban cooks them into to a terrific action hero.

As for his supporting cast, the movie attempts to provide the veneer of female empowerment.  Thirbly carries what little heart the film has, and provides the story’s only developing character.  Sadly, the movie falls short when it comes to Ma-Ma.  Headey is a talented actress, but her only duty in Dredd is to look creepy.  She has no female lieutenants, and while she doesn’t use sexuality as a weapon, she doesn’t really seem to have any weapons other than cannon-fodder and a total disregard for human life.  She’s a boss, but not much of a villain.

But Ma-Ma can exist as long as she’s part of Dredd‘s filthy stew of bloodshed.  Her visage is perfectly in tune with the film’s ethos: she’s got ugly scars, and a murderous glare.  Travis wants to make a gritty movie and Dredd fits the bill.  There’s just enough futuristic touches to make the film feel more than generic, but Dredd almost seems to take comfort in the familiar.  Travis doesn’t provide the bare minimum, but the bare medium.  There’s enough to occasionally get the blood pumping and the audience cheering for the thrill kills, but the film’s lack of ambition leaves only its eponymous anti-hero as the element that’s more than grit.

Rating: B-

For more on Dredd, here’s the first red band clip.


  • Pocketses

    Good for them, this is the second positive review of the screening I’ve heard, more than I had expected. Might end up seeing this after all.

  • mars

    Another retarded review by “Goldberg”… Urban is terrible in this doing that stupid fucking wannabe tough guy voice. Always giving stupid simple ass popcorn movies positive reviews…”it makes up for with loud noises..” WOOOOWWWW

  • Judge Hershey

    Umm….you guys are already reviewing a movie that doesn’t come out in theatres until September?…

    I didn’t actually read the review, out of fear of the typical Collider spoiler, but I’m hoping that’s not the case here…

    I’m actually really looking forward to this film, & I wish everyone would stop the whole comparison to The Raid. Urban is a brilliant actor & I think this is some fresh ground for him to prove himself.

    • Chad

      “I wish everyone would stop the whole comparison to The Raid.”

      Why? If it’s similar, then comparisons are justified.

      • DAAR

        In his defence, its because the older articles on the Dredd trailers were FULL of stupid douche monger trolls whining ” Hey this film ripped off the Raid” “The raid this, the raid that blah blah blaah” And not only that, but people just skipped past one whining post stating that to then just rewrite the same dumb shit!. Jus sayin..

        Dredd started production long ago, and this storyline style can be found in many Dredd comics dating far back. Block wars are very common in them. The Sly Dredd film even opened up with a block war scene.

      • Angmal

        The Raid was not the first action film set in a tall building.

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  • GunsOfNavarone

    I’ve just run this score through the Goldberg scale and arrived at an A-. Might have to check it out after all.

  • TheHOYT

    The fact that they resisted the urge to remove the helmet for the entirety of the film is a feat in and of itself. If Urban can carry the film showing only the lower-half of his face, than that’s more than enough incentive for me to see the movie.

    Besides, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of character development from this movie anyway. I was expecting grit, grime, and gun-play – it sounds like my expectations have become reality.

  • Brett

    There’s almost nothing in that review to match the rating of B- given. Reads like a C- at best.

  • HollowCrown

    “What it lacks in claustrophobia…” So you’re saying it’s not claustrophobic then? I guess they must’ve kept all of those wide open spaces out of the trailer. Yeah, that’s it…

  • Crimson

    Well at least the director had the balls to create a version of Dredd that is loyal to the comic version where he never takes his Helmet off.

  • Masshuu il Thulcandra

    Gee, rookie doesn’t have a helmet – did they run out?

    • Matty

      The Psi-cops don’t wear helmets.

  • SteveFOX

    I AM THE LAW !!!!

  • terry

    I saw the trailer and it looks like sh** on a dirty a** stick.

  • Grayden

    Yeah, why are we getting a review of this almost 2 months out from release?

    In dire need of logic…

    • Strong Enough

      why are you Collider pricks always f*cking complaining? who gives a sh*t? Read or don’t read the review.

      i never seen a site full of such idiots before. you would think they’d all be on screenrant

  • Dobby

    Saw this movie yesterday, and loved it. Bloody, brutal and hard as nails. It’s exactly what the 10 year old kid in me who grew up with the comics wants this to be as a grown man. No pretensions to be anything other than a damn good action movie. Yes, the low budget sticks out occasionally, but you forgive it in the hail of lawgiver bullets!

  • Dredd

    Early good reviews is a good sign this movie might be good. IGN gave it an 8 out of 10. Looking forward to it.

  • Eric Nixon

    B-, hmmm. Now when we factor in “The Goldberg Curve”, that actually brings it to a solid A. I may have to see it after all.

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  • onion

    i will stick with the stallone film.
    Today’s people already forgot how to have fun.

    • Angmal

      I know where you’re coming from, but according to the Badass Digest review the film actually IS a lot of fun, with good jokes and lots of exploitation-style gore. This review here makes it sound like all the other generic, pompous, miserable toss we’ve had to endure in recent years, but if BD is right this could be the antidote to that.

      Also, odd that Travis gets singled out by Matt as the visionary, when writer Garland (Sunshine, 28 Days Later) is supposedly the one in charge of Dredd.

  • DAAR

    The new released clip is all kinds of awesome!

  • bob

    spastic extras?

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  • ISeemToBeAVerb

    The Psi-cop chick is cute. I bet she’s going to be really hot when she grows up. :-P

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  • JBug

    I agree with all of your points, Matt, but felt the movie worked great despite them. Similar to Jack Bauer, it is sometimes comforting knowing the hero is going to win. It’s still good fun. I also liked the minimalist plot. The movie was just pure fun, without having to think about anything.