Weekend Muvie Revue
When you set out to make an action movie you’re eventually going to have to decide whether the action is there to propel your plot forward or the plot and characters are just a there as a framework you can stuff as much action as possible into. Or you can never decide and make a typically shitty, unfocused action flick. Most movies do that. Then the few that actually do say ‘this is just to entertain you’ just use it as an excuse. Unfortunately, saying you’re only creating a framework for action doesn’t give you an excuse to make a really shitty frame. It makes it especially important to establish them quickly and efficiently. This is the good guy, he fights the bad guy and it will happen in these set pieces. Dredd 3D put action first and generally went about it in the right way. It knew that to be faithful to the comic books Dredd could never take his mask off, so they gave us a new, maskless character to relate to. Bam, now you’ve got someone to root for. Then it introduced the concept of Mega-City One and the Judges quickly and efficiently in the first few minutes and just dug right in.
It was refreshing to see, but it was also the wrong decision. This is one of those times where the material you’re adapting into a screenplay kind of matters. In the comics, Judge Dredd is not a likable protagonist. He’s not even an anti-hero; he’s just a piece of shit. A badass piece of shit, but still a piece of shit. He’s a cog in a brutally efficient, overzealous machine that feels no compassion and doesn’t value the liberty of its citizens. I’ve never read any Dredd comic books; I just know they’re that way because they’re British comic books.
Dredd 3D was careful to stick to the source material because for some reason people are still pissed about the 1995 Judge Dredd, even though they never saw it. So Dredd’s mask stays on, his gun is voice activated and it blows up if someone else touches it. Great. That’s still only half the equation. The solution to Judge Dredd being un-relatable isn’t to give him an adorable sidekick – he wears the mask because we’re not supposed to relate to him in the first place. Basically, Dredd 3D does a good job of being an ‘entertainment-first’ movie, but it’s not based in an entertainment-first setting. You’re trying to get us to root for a character that’s ‘judge, jury and executioner’ all in one, also known as everything ever that Democracy would like to prevent. When you throw out the moral ambiguity now you’ve got someone summarily executing people without a trial and we’re just supposed to root for him unquestioningly.
Dredd 3D isn’t even really a Judge Dredd remake, it’s a Raid: Redemption remake in Judge Dredd drag. The Raid: Redemption is an Indonesian action movie with basically the same plot as Dredd and much better action, because it’s Indonesian. It’s exactly what Dredd 3D wants to be and it does it much better because it doesn’t owe allegiance to anything. It set its goals and then constructed a plot and setting that allowed it to achieve those goals. Dredd 3D felt like someone threw a mattress on the floor of a kitchen someone else built and said ‘Fuck your kitchen, it’s a bedroom now.’ It kind of works that way, but probably would’ve worked way better as the thing it was meant to be in the first place.
When you adapt or remake or sequelize something, you owe it to the source material to stick to it at least to a certain extent. It’s also to your befenit to do so, because it helps your thing make sense. Find out what people liked about the original and expand on or build off of that instead of just replacing it with something else. If you find yourself adapting Judge Dredd and all you can come up with are un-Dredd ideas, make sure someone in Indonesia hasn’t done it first and then just make your own thing. Or remake the Indonesian thing you thought you invented. Just stop I Am Legend-ing us. Of course most people won’t really care about all this shit – they’re not missing the part of their brain that lets them enjoy things. For those people, this will be a fairly good movie. It lets you know right away you’re here for the action and gets right to that action. That action isn’t really all that spectacular either, but what do you care? You can enjoy things! So shine on you crazy diamond. Also, watch the Raid: Redemption. It’s better.
**1/2 (out of ****)
Am I right or am I right? Email all opinions, in the form of a yes or no answer, to firstname.lastname@example.org and explain yourself before you cause pain to yourself. Or, follow me on Twitter @Dan_Tompkins. You can shout at me there and as a bonus, I will amuse you.