Judge Dredd 3D

Judge Dredd Gen X Review


Judge Dredd is an old-fashioned story of a stern father who would rather be dead than wrong and an insane mother who skins and eats her children.

This 2012 reboot of a terrible 1995 Sylvester Stallone film has teeth. It snarls and screams and makes a lot of noise, but it never takes its helmet off.

This remake has the spirit of the original British comic. Born in the same urban decay as punk rock, the Judge Dredd comic book imagined a future from 1977 that looked like the worst of that decade expanded forever. Unemployment. Urban blight. Addiction. Denim.

Judge Dredd was about understanding the world left behind after the 1960s. Screw the hippie back-to-nature bullshit. The natural world was a wasted irradiated desert. Leaving the metropolis was a death sentence. Locked in an unbroken urban landscape, the people of this future were desperate and hungry, occasionally even cannibalistic, but they were also realists.

There was no better tomorrow, no bright city on the mountain. The light had gone out. The counterculture had revealed itself as essentially empty – it was the decade of the stoner – and yet the police state was a savage, unfeeling machine.

Forget your human potential movement, your flying cars, your internet, your first-world issues with your parents. The world was carnivorous. It would devour you and spit out your bones on the street. This was the world that was, a world that could only barely even be survived.

This zeitgeist gave birth to Dredd. Its heady mix of violence, satire and big chins was a salve against the hypocrisy of the age. It was a big FU to both the Boomer counterculture that claimed it always had the answer (just listen to Mother Nature, man) and the law enforcement establishment that persisted in the fiction that it had a human face.

(Its face was a riot helmet and the bad end of a pistol.)

To say the remake captures this essence better than the mid-nineties film is an understatement. In many ways the 2000s have been the 1970s 2.0 and maybe it took the pressure cooker of semi-permanent unemployment, a failed youth rebellion and corruption to give us back the Judge Dredd we remembered in our youths. But here it is.

It’s another Monday at the Grand Hall of Justice in Mega-City One, the Judges’ super police station. Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) and rookie Cassandra (Olivia Thirlby), a mutant with the uncanny (and mostly irrelevant) power to read minds, are sent to investigate grisly murders in one of the high sky risers call Peach Trees.

Vicious drug kingpin Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) skinned three small-time competitors before throwing them from the 200th floor of the complex. Dredd and Cassandra capture one of Ma-Ma’s men and learn that the boss isn’t just a supplier. She is creating a powerful new narcotic called Slo-Mo right out of Peach Trees.  In order to keep her secret from the authorizes, Ma-Ma seals Peach Trees, trapping the Judges in the crime-ridden high-rise. They respond by fighting their way up, into Ma-Ma’s lair.

The journey to the penthouse is a sort of return to the heart of darkness. In trying to reclaim Peach Trees for order, Judge Dredd is trying to recapture the symbolic head of the complex. He has come to destroy the beast, to wrest control away from the mad mother and establish true order.

It is a losing battle, but no one has been better suited to lose than this super cop. Dredd is not so much a man as a machine, a functioning arm of the law. He is presence without personality, and one of the reasons many movie goers only see violence on display in Dredd 3D is because we’ve come to expect we’ll know the man behind the mask.

We expect to understand the Bruce Wayne that struggles with the Batman. We are drawn to the inner battle between these psychological forces and understand the superhero narrative a containing both the mask and the man. Judge Dredd is neither mask nor man – he is machine.

He is the best person suited for the job of judge and executioner, a literalist who can throw out endless gray complexities and determine right from wrong. This is why no one questions his moral authority as he leaves a blood trail up Peach Trees. He is only body and he reads other bodies in absolute terms.

Cassandra’s mind reading is a curious problem for Dredd, since Judges shouldn’t care what happens inside of people. If a body commits a crime, it is guilty and it doesn’t matter what forces have compelled it. The entire world, in fact, acts as though motives are unimportant. You are the presentation you make to others and nothing more, so getting inside people is a strange gift.

When Cassandra starts reading the Judge’s mind, her supervisor abruptly tells her that’s enough. Nothing could be less pertinent. It’s like psychoanalyzing a toaster oven or reading the mind of a rock.

Ma-Ma controls Slo-Mo, a drug that slows time down until you can see the mystical veil hidden in ordinary reality. At first glance this is a strange sort of narcotic. Who would want to experience time in this way in a world as grim and hopeless as this one? The experience of watching blood explode out of exit wounds begins to become grating, even in 3D.

But Ma-Ma is stealing time from the society and time is one of the few things Judges can’t control. The drug changes the perspective in a way that defies the establishment’s flat, behavioral worldview. It doesn’t offer illusion in place of reality, but deepens the appreciation of reality until even this world is beautiful.

In his journey Dredd fights his mirror opposite, confronts cruelty and madness… All the usual stuff. But because he is not a man, the experiences do not change him in any way. It's simply another day at the office for the Judge.

Cassandra, however, does earn her badge. She is in some ways the child that emerges out of this crazy mother / oppressive father dichotomy, a thing incubated in poverty, crime and violence. She has succeeded in flattening herself out for justice’s sake – in using a gift that might lead others to empathies and humanize criminality as simply a better lie-detecting machine – and she has survived.  

It’s a good way to start the week.


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