Dredd Reviewed: What It Lacks In Narrative Depth, It Makes Up For In Brutal Action

The team behind Dredd took a big gamble by keeping the certificate at 18, but it's one that has paid off. Violent, visceral and high-octane action sequences make this film a real winner, despite the paper-thin storyline.
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Eighteen certifications are becoming increasingly rare in mainstream cinema, with many production companies encouraging directors to sacrifice their original intentions in order to conform to the lesser ratings to draw in a wider audience and ultimately more profit. On a few occasions this year the business side of the film industry has reared its ugly head with some films toning down their content, omitting scenes and in extreme cases even renaming the film itself - John Carter of Mars became John Carter and The Avengers became Marvel’s Avengers Assemble - all in the name of money-making.

Thankfully, unlike its predecessor which was cut to fit a fifteen certificate in 1995, this nonsense was avoided by Dredd’s British creators. At first it seemed a big gamble for a comic-book adaptation to remove itself from the genre’s typical demographic, but when you consider that the cult fandom that surrounds the source material and original film is largely made up of over eighteens, the decision to keep their film an eighteen was certainly worth taking and the film only benefits from this.

The nature of the certification allows for gory violence and obscene language to feature at the forefront of this dark, more visceral adaptation. From the brilliantly choreographed hand-to-hand combat to the high octane explosions that only Michael Bay could find lacking, the action sequences are exceptionally well crafted in this thoroughly entertaining film. However, on occasion the violence is needlessly excessive and (often literally) cuts too close to the bone – there are few too many slow-motion shots of people being peppered with bullets and others being skinned alive.

when you consider that the cult fandom that surrounds the source material and original film is largely made up of over eighteens, the decision to keep their film an eighteen was certainly worth taking

The large majority of criticism will fall on the narrative, and it certainly has little in terms of originality – we’ve seen the same narrative countless times, and even earlier this year with Gareth Evans’ exceptional The Raid: Redemption, which itself faced criticism for unoriginality. Similarly to the Indonesian action film, the narrative is not at the height of importance, more a simple, easily understandable base upon which increasingly spectacular action set pieces can be built. There’s really not much more you can ask of an action film.

The nineties film, like many of its era, directed all of its attention on the personality starring in the central role rather than the character himself. With the current prolific action heroes only interested in performing in ensemble films, it’s left actors not immediately recognised within the action genre, such as Colin Farrell, or lesser known actors all together, such as Karl Urban, to revive these classic characters.

Urban’s performance is defined by the simple act of keeping his helmet on for the duration of the film, allowing the legendary status of his protagonist to speak for itself. Instead of relying on an imitation of the original performance, as I’d feared, Urban’s individual portrayal of the monosyllabic, chiselled, grizzled, law enforcer is much more accessible and much more impressive than Sly’s.

From the outset the highlight of this adaptation is the acknowledgement of the original film. Director Pete Travis, screenwriter Alex Garland and DNA Films take inspiration and borrow ideas from Judge Dredd, but more importantly learn from previous mistakes and improve on their predecessor tenfold. The film offers plenty for returning fans, while providing newcomers with pure entertainment. It pains me to admit that the 3D was legitimately impressive, but it’s heartening to see that not every remake of a “classic” needs to be met with quite as much trepidation. In fact, when they are treated with an equal amount of respect and skill, the result can be among the best action films of the year.

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