Without hesitation, I can say that Dredd is the best comic book movie of 2012. Put away your bat-shaped pitchforks and mighty hammers so that you can hear me out. Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers were both considered fantastic epics that were the culmination of years of build-up. Both were huge and explosive. When you walk out of the theater, you comment on what a rush it was. Then what do you walk away with?
Dredd is a much smaller film. Not only is the budget smaller but the length doesn’t even attempt to touch the other two films. If the other two films were explosives, then Dredd was a bullet from a sniper rifle. It is exactly that precision that I appreciate about the film.
Absent from Dredd is an overstated soundtrack. Also absent are picturesque shots showing off its stars. This film features Karl Urban (Star Trek (2009 film)) and Lena Headey (Game of Thrones), but they are rendered unrecognizable. The movie does not pull the characters out of the action so they can have five minute conversations meant to convey to the audience who the characters are. Every moment of every scene and every piece of dialogue tells the audience exactly who the characters are. Not a moment is wasted.
The understated nature of the film also serves the purpose of showing the audience just how big the world is. Most of the film takes place in a 200-story slum tower in Mega-City One. Judge Dredd is sent on assignment, and the film sees it through till the end – all in about a day’s time. And that’s it. This violent adventure is just another day in Mega-City One, another city in the post apocalyptic world. The world is a violent and corrupt place, but there are people in it who are trying to make it better. What did Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers tell you about their worlds? For as large as those films were, you could only get a sense of their respective cities.
Despite the film’s strengths, it will likely die a swift and agonizing death in the theater. The extreme violence and occasional sexuality put this in the strong R category, which is likely why the advertising for the film has been so minimal. When I saw the film on opening weekend, the local theater had only eight showings of the film – four each for 2D and 3D. New releases tend to get more…but Dredd apparently did not make the cut. Karl Urban and writer Alex Garland are hopeful for a sequel, but $6.3 million in the first weekend for a film that cost $45 million will more than likely dash those hopes. But at least the film will very quickly develop a cult following, and maybe the home media sales will convince a studio to move forward on another one.
But a cult following has to start somewhere. If you appreciate science fiction action films, are not turned off by violence and (extremely brief) sex, and want to see an understated masterpiece, then you obviously need to put some money into this film.