Why Dredd Is an Underrated Superhero Movie for Adults - VRGyani News and Media


Thursday, August 19, 2021

Why Dredd Is an Underrated Superhero Movie for Adults

2012 was a landmark year in the history of superhero movies. It represented a major shift in how Marvel and DC handled their core properties; the MCU explored the crossover capabilities of their interconnected universe with The Avengers, and Christopher Nolan closed out his Batman trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises a year before the DCEU launched. Even if critical reception for The Amazing Spider-Man earned a collective shrug, it still collected nearly $800 million worldwide, and a smaller gem like Chronicle indicated that with a good story and a creative filmmaker behind it, superhero movies didn’t need huge budgets.

The genre was thriving, but a new Dredd film managed to slip by largely unnoticed when it debuted in September. The new spin on the masked judge, jury, and executioner created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra was the first to adapt the character since the ill-fated 1995 Judge Dredd film starring Sylvester Stallone. Dredd wasn’t an entirely risky prospect, as reception to early screenings at Comic-Con and the Toronto International Film Festival were largely positive, and the $45 million budget posed less of a risk than the $200 million plus spent on The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Dark Knight Rises. Yet, Dredd landed with little impact, and the prospects of sequels were scrapped.

That’s a shame, because Dredd is one of the most underrated R-Rated superhero movies of the past decade. Dredd improves on the campiness of the Stallone version, and although not every R-Rated superhero movie requires the “dark and gritty” approach, this is a case where it's necessary. Dredd is set within a future where metropolitan centers have fallen to crime syndicates and pollution has depleted the environment; while it's dystopian, it's not a stretch from reality. Dredd’s commentary on the militarization of law enforcement justifies a nihilistic approach, as even if Dredd himself is able to do intermittent good, he can’t put an end to cyclical violence.

RELATED: Karl Urban Says Alex Garland Actually Directed ‘Dredd’

There’s a reason Karl Urban is frequently asked about returning to the role, and it's not just because his menacing growl sounds cool (but it definitely does). Urban doesn’t treat Dredd like a noble superhero; enforcing the law is his day job, and the gruelling task of policing a city has worn him down. As evidenced by the takeover of an entire skyrise by the drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey in a gloriously insane, Patti Smith-inspired performance), Dredd is in service of a system of over-policing that isn’t working, and one that’s frequently corrupted, as seen when a rogue judge ambushes him. Urban carries this burden on his shoulders and elevates Dredd’s gruffness beyond its inherent machismo.

Dredd’s strict adherence to procedure is introduced through his relationship with the psychic Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a judge-in-training assigned as his protege after she narrowly fails the test to join his ranks. The narrow failure is enough to spark tension between the two; in order to dispense with his lethal capabilities, Dredd must have zero doubts that his opponent is guilty. Seeing Dredd headshot a street thug during an armed robbery is more satisfying knowing he doesn’t show the same brutality towards an opponent he’s not convinced poses a serious threat. It's one of the rare superhero movies that’s conscious of collateral damage.

Anderson’s abilities to read thoughts challenges her mentor’s worldview. Dredd views justice as black-and-white, and having a character who is inherently empathetic to others’ feelings clouds his perspective. The psychic abilities are creatively introduced through nightmarish visuals as Anderson enters minds, and in some cases invades them. It also distinguishes their investigative tactics. Dredd can gruffly act like a hard-boiled detective, but Anderson can coax answers out of reluctant witnesses.

The visualization of Anderson’s psychic abilities is only one element of Dredd’s immersive use of 3D. Despite being converted in post-production, the 3D allows the action sequences to feel more tactile, as Dredd and Anderson often communicate nonverbally when strategizing and it's important to see detailed backgrounds. While Mega-City One’s crumbling metroplex is realistic, director Pete Travis inserts the right amount of stylized violence to nail the pulpy feel. The kills in Dredd are gruesome to the point of absurdity, with explosive massacres and gruesome dismemberments that descend into body horror.

The most notable use of 3D comes from “Slo-Mo,” the addictive drug that Ma-Ma hooks her residents on. As the name suggests, the effects of using the drug blur the effects of time, and 3D is effective in showing its grotesque impact on users. It also makes some of Dredd’s most gruesome kills stick out in gruesome detail. Who doesn’t want to see Karl Urban literally blow off someone’s head to the tune of a somber Justin Beiber slow cover?

The skyrise itself is mapped out discreetly, and screenwriter Alex Garland once again shows that the macro of an intricate sci-fi world is best understood through the micro, something he’s mastered in everything from 28 Days Later to Ex Machina. While the opening scene going through Dredd’s routine offers a window into the various slums in Mega-City One, most of the action is contained to the single tower under Ma-Ma’s control. It focuses on worldbuilding by showing how the depletion of society has impacted one specific location, and containing the story creates more suspense. The contained approach may have made Dredd feel more novel if The Raid: Redemption hadn’t done the same thing only a few months prior, but the fact that “Die Hard in a Skyrise” was an emerging subgenre is something worth celebrating.

Not every comic book movie that underperforms is an underrated gem worthy of reappreciation, but Dredd may have just come out at the wrong time. Perhaps audiences weren’t quite ready to erase the Stallone version from their memories or the marketing focused too heavily on niche fans, but Dredd fulfills a void of Paul Verhoeven-inspired, grimy ‘80s sci-fi ridiculousness that is sorely missing in modern action movies. Anything can get a petition, but the prospects of a Dredd 2 or the proposed series are actually exciting because this is a universe worth returning to.

KEEP READING: The Best Performances Where You Can’t See the Character's Face, Ranked

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