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Judge Dredd (1995) & Dredd (2012) – Review

1 May

With a summer full of comic book movies, I’m gonna be writing plenty of reviews of our favorite masked heroes. Let’s look at a more out of the way comic series for just a bit, though. In 1977, the British comic book 2000 AD was first published, which provided readers with new stories every week. The most famous recurring character of this series is none other than Judge Dredd himself. Like many comic book characters, movies were eventually made. In 1995 there was Judge Dredd starring Sylvester Stallone, and in 2012 there was Dredd starring Karl Urban. To compare the two, let me just say think Batman and Robin compared to The Dark Knight.

Let’s look at the 1995 version first. Or maybe let’s just try and forget?

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By the latter part of the 21st century, the Earth has been turned into a desert wasteland. Whoever is left alive are forced to reside in giant Mega-Cities where crime runs rampant, as opposed to the alternative, which is getting torn apart in the areas outside the walls. In these cities, the law is upheld by “judges” who act as judge, jury, and executioner. The most feared of these judges is Judge Dredd (Sylvester Stallone), who is recognized for outstanding service and a brutal, no nonsense attitude. When one of his biggest criticizers is murdered, Dredd is framed and is forced to go on the run in order to clear his name and restore justice to the corrupted Mega-City One.

Now, I’m all about silly movies especially when the likes of Sylvester Stallone are involved, but holy hell… What is this? After researching, I’ve found that he production of this movie was nightmarish since director Danny Cannon and his screenwriters had a huge disagreement with Stallone over what this movie was supposed to be. Was it a serious action/sci fi or was it an action/comedy? Stallone preferred the latter which made for some serious rewrites. The outcome is bizarre. The film has a great look to it and the special effects are all really good, but everything else is pretty awful. Rob Schneider’s comedic relief is anything but funny and the plot is so confusing and muddled that I didn’t really care what happened in the end.

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The best way I can sum up Judge Dredd is by saying I was baffled. How could a movie based off such a cool, rough character be this silly? Did they really think the jokes were that funny? Did they know that the plot made barely any sense? I honestly don’t now. The movie starts off cool enough, but once the real story kicked in, I found myself losing interest fast. Stallone looks ridiculous in the he’s always standing ramrod straight and Rob Schneider was just plain awful. I could really only enjoy Armand Assante’s performance as the villainous Rico. He was way over the top and loving it. This film is hated by fans of the comic series, and honestly, even though I haven’t read any of the stories, can see why.

But all was not lost. In 2012, director Pete Travis and screenwriter Alex Garland teamed up to hopefully bring some redemption to the character. The result was Dredd.

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A new plague has struck Mega-City One, and it is the newest, most popular designer drug called Slo-Mo. It’s main draw is that upon inhaling, the brain is tricked into perceiving the world around it as moving at 1% its normal speed. Enter Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) and his new trainee, Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a psychic who although she performed poorly at the academy may have special uses with her power. The two arrive at Peach Trees, a 200 story slum, to investigate a triple homicide. What the judges don’t know is that they are working against drug kingpin Ma-Ma’s (Lena Headey) best interests in the production of Slo-Mo. To counteract her situation, Ma-Ma has the entire complex locked down and orders all of the criminals inside to hunt down and kill the judges. What follows is a two man war to the top of the complex to find and judge Ma-Ma, but also just to make it out of there alive.

I said earlier that these two movies can be compared like Batman and Robin to The Dark Knight. While Dredd certainly isn’t as incredible as The Dark Knight, the comparison can still be seen. This is a much darker take on the lore created in the comic books and it succeeds so much more. Karl Urban surprisingly plays a much better, real, and strangely likable Dredd, but that’s just the beginning. Instead of trying to complicate things unnecessarily, Alex Garland kept the story simple and straightforward, resulting in a movie that felt like I was watching a live action graphic novel of the story. Another contributing factor to this is the cinematography of Anthony Dod Mantle, who has done work on Slumdog Millionaire28 Days Later, and Antichrist to name a few.

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Dredd is simply a much better movie than the 1995 original. It’s stylistically beautiful, is loaded with nearly non-stop action, and has a sense of humor that is appropriate to the content. I also can’t help but mention that it reminded me of The Raid more than once, but that’s great considering The Raid is one of the best action films of the decade. While this doesn’t reach the heights of comic book adaptations like The Dark Knight or The Avengers, it’s still a damn entertaining movie and one that I would love to see again and again.

So there you have it. If you haven’t seen these films already, I highly recommend skipping over Judge Dredd and moving right on to Dredd. He may not be the most well known comic book character, Judge Dredd has lasted over 35 years and counting, so much respect should definitely be given.

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The Expendables 3 – Review

2 Jan

When The Expendables came out in 2010, I was thrilled to see all of the legendary action stars coming together to be in one movie, even if it didn’t reach the high expectations that I set for it. I was even more pleased with The Expendables 2 in 2012, which was a superior sequel that added Chuck Norris to the mix and gave Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis more to do. These were two fun films that hearkened back to action movies from the late 1970 and 1980s, but Stallone wasn’t ready to stop there. The Expendables 3, which I can now say was released in 2014 (just for the sake of saying it), completes the trilogy and actually offered me with more entertainment than I was expecting, which is a nice surprise.

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Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), the leader of his team of mercenaries called The Expendables, start their mission by breaking an old member of the team, Doc (Wesley Snipes), out of prison and than rush to Somalia to stop the delivery of bombs by a mysterious arms dealer. The mission goes awry when it is revealed the arms dealer is an ex-Expendable and personal enemy of Barney’s, Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson). One of the team members is severely injured and Stonebanks escapes, forcing Barney to assemble a new crew to go in and bring Stonbanks back on the orders of his new boss, CIA officer Max Drummer (Harrison Ford). When the new team gets captured by Stonebanks during the mission, the old Expendables crew comes back in to save the new recruits, defeat Stonebanks’ personal army, and bring him in personally to be charged as a war criminal.

I don’t think I even need to say this, but just look at this cast. Just look at it. On top of Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren and the rest of the original cast we now have Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes, and Antonio Banderas added just to name a few. Not only that, but Schwarzenegger and Jet Li are back to join in to the action and join it they do. Obviously, there are also a bunch of fresher faces there like UFC figher Ronda Rousey, Kellan Lutz, boxer Victor Ortiz, and Glen Powell. While it must have been cool for these fighters and actors to join in with the legends, they don’t add anything really special to the movie, and their acting can often be subpar, which shouldn’t even bother me in an Expendables movie. I was worried that these newcomers would push the others to the side, but it was great to see everyone get their chance in the spotlight, my personal favorite being Banderas. I just would have rather seen Gina Carano instead of Ronda Rousey, but that’s just me. There’s also a real big lack of Terry Crews in this movie, which was a little disappointing as well.

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Of course one of the biggest draws to see an Expendables movie is the action, and there’s plenty of it to go around. One of the things that concerned me along with the new cast was the fact that The Expendables 3 was PG-13, which made me think that this movie was going to be completely toned down. It really didn’t feel that way though. In fact, I’d say it may even be superior to the original movie. Another thing that is necessary in action films of this kind is a strong villain, and we get one with Stonebanks. It is obvious that Mel Gibson is having the time of his life, hamming it up as Barney’s arch-enemy and delivering his lines like he’s back in the role of Martin Riggs in the Lethal Weapon movies. Looking back on these movies, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Mel Gibson were two of the best parts of the entire series, which is cool because cool villains are just plain awesome.

It’s clear that this is also a pretty personal project to all of the older actors in this movie, especially that there are now younger actors in the movie kicking ass with them. There’s been a few of these kinds of movies recently where the people we loved for years begin to talk about their age in a positive light. Stallone and the rest of them is reminding us once again that they are quite capable of high octane action scenes and still have fun shooting them. That being said, I don’t think we need another Expendables movie, and I’m hoping and praying that we don’t get one, because as much as I like what they’re doing, they’ve been doing it on repeat since 2010. I will say that some of this movie felt like it was getting a little stale (and I’m including the wonky special effects with this), which means it’s time to pack this series in.

The Expendables movies are simply nostalgic guilty pleasures that no one should really feel guilty about, in my opinion. These movies, the third movie included, are not pieces of work that need to be criticized to quickly. Maybe I liked this movie as much as I did because it exceeded my low expectations, but maybe it’s just because I like seeing these actors do what they do best. It’s not high art and it doesn’t have anything particularly interesting to say, but we’ve known these actors for a long time and it’s cool to see them in a loud, violent, and often funny action film.

 

The Expendables 2 – Review

18 Aug

I’ve gone to see more movies at their midnight openings this year more than I have any year of my life. I’m proud to say that I can include The Expendables 2 to this list of movies. I loved the first Expendables, but I’m excited to say that the sequel has surpassed the original in every way, making it not only one of my favorite movies of the year (after The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises), but also one of my favorite action movies of all time.

 

Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his team of mercenaries are still out in the field doing some of the dirtiest mercenary work around. After a not so friendly meeting with Mr. Church (Bruce Willis), Ross takes a job to retrieve a package from a downed plane. This simple job quickly goes awry with the arrival of another team of mercenaries led by Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) who steal the package to unlock a powerful source of plutonium and hold the world hostage.

Something the original Expendables lacked was a strong plot line, but I felt like the movie took its weak plot seriously and tried to make it believable. In their second outing, the plot is still rather weak, but no attempt is made to take itself too seriously. Instead, we get a hardcore action movie that hearkens back to the eighties with quick one liners and plenty of over the top gunplay and fighting.

 

The Expendables 2 also has a lot less down time than the first installment. Thankfully there is also no Mickey Rourke monologue to get lost and confused in. I would go so far as to say that after a certain point in the movie, the action becomes a relentless barrage of guns, explosions, and satisfying blood spray (although some of it is still digital).

The sound design in this movie is really impressive. More than once I would stop and think to myself, “Wow, this movie is really loud.” The punning sound of Crews’ AA12 that is fired at the beginning of the movie is enough to make any action junky’s heart skip. In fact, the whole beginning of the movie has top of the line foley work and a adrenaline pumping sound track that made me more than ready for the rest of the movie.

 

What else made this movie really cool, you ask? Hmm, well, Chuck Norris gets to kick a fair share of ass along with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. Not only these legendary action stars, but Terry Crews, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, and Randy Couture get a lot more to do than they did in the first film. They felt more like a team than in the original, which only made me root for them more. That, and Jean-Claude Van Damme is a real asshole and plays a villain that you love to hate.

The Expendables 2 exceeded my expectations in every way. I knew that it was going to be cool and exciting, but no where near as great as it was. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen out of fear of missing a split second of the action. This is a film that I can’t wait to see again, and will be seeing again before it is out of theaters. If you love action movies, or even ever seen an action movie, check out The Expendables 2.