DREDD (Pete Travis, 2012)
It's hard not to compare the new Judge Dredd reboot with the Indonesian film "THE RAID" (or "THE RAID REDEMPTION" in US and other territories) because the similarities are so identical; and not just storywise, mind you but in production design as well.
Compared to the previous Judge Dredd film topbilled by Stallone, Pete Travis's DREDD favors full-on blood, gore, and violence. It is not concerned about back stories or plot twists, just full on action. Also, Judge Dredd becomes much more of an enigma, with Karl Urban not removing his helmet for the film's entirety, which fans and critics have said to be much more faithful to the British comic source material.
Satire is less than minimal. Humor is dry. Dredd seems emotionless (perhaps the filmmaker's intention), and all other cops walk and talk like robots, in unison with the appearance of their uniform (unforgivable and inexcusable).
Even the chief villain, Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) appears all vicious and notorious, but director Travis and the script by Alex Garland doesn't let the character breathe much to let us feel her villainy. She appears menacing with the way she orders people around, and the partial back story on how she outlawed the other gangs in the 200-storey tower Peach Trees is helpful, but not as a way of reinforcing Ma-Ma's status as a gang leader. In respect, Headey ignited more tension in her turn as the scheming queen Cersei Lannister in HBO's GAME OF THRONES, and she doesn't even have a gun at her disposal.
THE RAID's version of Ma-Ma, Tama Riyadi (Ray Sahetapy) is cold, rabid, and iconic. Now that's a villain I will cower in fear for.
And to open further the conversation on the similarities between THE RAID and DREDD, first the production design. Both are set in decrepit spaces, with a looming gargantuan tower serving as the doomed battleground. Hallways, apartments, and CCTV cameras are similar physical elements, despite DREDD being set in the future.
Then, there's the element of a drug lab housed inside the tower somewhere. In DREDD however, the manufacture of the drug, street named SLO-MO (because it makes your brain function at 1% its normal speed) is a major plot device.
The seemingly rip-off situation isn't the major problem of DREDD though: it's the lack of story. Basically you have two cops locked in a fortress and a villain who has endless henchmen out to get them. The gunfights are enjoyable, but there has to be something more.
The film's saving grace comes in the form of Olivia Thirlby, who as rookie Judge Cassandra Anderson provides the heart to the script's cold treatment of its subject matter. The story is a dystopian one, and yet here Thirlby is shining like a star in a dark night. As the rookie character, she asks some very important ethical questions that the film needed answering, like what to do with a man who attempts to kill a police officer, or who can be spared from the law and when? Thirlby is up to the task of both physical action and innocence projection. Like a toy car, she shifts from stationary to kinetic with the turn of the key.
As for Karl Urban, his portrayal of DREDD seems better than Stallone's, because here he's straightforward, focused, and chilling to the bone. You'd shiver when you meet him at a narrow corridor, or even a populated lobby.
Controversies aside, DREDD is still an enjoyable escapist vehicle. It takes a classic element of the pro tutoring the rookie, with lots and lots of violence mixed in the equation, and it succeeds on that account.