Starring Leonard McCoy and Cersei Lannister
Okay, you probably know the plot of this one already: Judge Dredd and rookie Judge Anderson go on what they think is a routine drug bust, only to wind up trapped inside a giant skyscraper filled with gang members who are all trying to kill them, and the only way out is to fight their way to the top floor.
This could have been a by-the-numbers, totally forgettable action movie but director Pete Travis and writer Alex Garland have actually remembered to put in an actual, you know, plot. You have a contrast between Dredd's hard-edged take-no-prisoners justice, and Anderson's more soft-hearted community-oriented policing. You have a rookie discovering what her job is actually about and having to choose whether this is the right path for her after all. You even wind up wondering what the difference between cops and criminals in this world is, since they both wind up causing so much destruction.
The movie has gotten some flak in some circles for downplaying the satire, black comedy, and fascism of Dredd's oeuvre, but I can't blame the producers for that. That sort of material doesn't really play well with the general public, and if you're going to play it up to the extent that the comics do you'll wind up with a farce like, well, like Stallone's Judge Dredd. Hook the audience on the character first, and then introduce those elements in a sequel.
It also doesn't hurt that this is a beautiful movie. The special effects are really well done, the production design does a great job marrying Dredd's aesthetics to an actual plausible near-future world, and the cinematography is just top-notch. Hell, there are some scenes in this movie that I'd watch again just to dissect the color blocking.
Also, compared to its predecessor, it has 100% less Rob Schneider hiding in pasta robots, though that may be damning it with faint praise.
The Raid: Redemption (2011)
Starring some dudes
Okay, you probably know the plot of this one already: a SWAT team (with one freshly transferred rookie) go on what they think is a routine drug bust, only to wind up trapped inside an apartment complex filled with gang members who are all trying to kill them, and the only way out is to fight their way to the top floor.
Yes, it is a total coincidence.
If you like non-stop violence then The Raid is going to be right up your alley. There's plenty of pentjak silat, knife fighting, and people being blown apart by shotguns. There are broken bones and gallons of fake blood and more squibs than you can shake a stick at.
But where Dredd is actually interested in exploring its characters, all The Raid is interested in is getting to the next thrill/kill. Oh, sure, there's a ham-handed suplot about family, but it's less a thematic element and more a plot convience to get one of the characters to the right place at the right time. And it's all so poorly written and directed that you will actually find yourself hoping the characters would just shut up and get back to kicking each other in the head.
If you like martial arts fight scenes there's plenty to like here. But it's like eating a pixie stick — a quick rush that leaves no lasting impression. And there are better fight scenes in better movies that you are better off seeing.
Starring Buckaroo Banzai and Red Forman
After 25 years, the action scenes and special effects in RoboCop may not pack the punch they once did, but it's still a movie that's worth seeing, purely for the subtext. This is the movie Dredd could have been.
I mean, geez, it's set in a world where where corporations are above the law, where privatization is distorting the function of basic public services, where plutocrats really don't give a crap how far the rest of the world has decayed as long as it doesn't interfere with their profit margins. It's got a character who has to choose whether he's a man or a machine, police who have to choose between the law and justice, criminals who coopt the trappings of business, and businessmen who coopt the trappings of criminals. And, if you're writing a paper for your high school English class, then it's also full of some mighty convenient Christ symbolism.
Is it perfect? No. It's odd to see a movie like this, one that postdates the creeping militarization of the police but predates the massive drop in street crime that would occur a decade later. These days many of us are just as afraid of the cops as we are the crooks, but in RoboCop they are uniformly good men forced to make tough choices. But it also makes an interesting window into the zeitgeist of the late '80s, to the world of crack cocaine and Willie Horton and New Jack City.
Unfortunately, years of sequels and spin-offs have made the character a bit of a joke. I'm really curious to see what they do in the forthcoming remake. Will they somehow manage to merge the core elements of RoboCop with the spirit of a new era? Or will it just be more of the same, with bigger explosions?
And will it have Commander Cash?
Future Force (1989)
Starring Kwai Chang Caine
Sadly, this is probably the true future of law enforcement: some schlubby down-on-his-luck independent contractor wth a laser-firing robot arm that could instantly end any fight he gets into but which he's not allowed to use for some reason.
I have seen the future, and it's Mitchell in a sleeveless jean jacket.
God help us all.
I should add that this movie, which depicts a world where the government has collapsed and law enforcement is handled by a corrupt and out-of-control private sector, is set in 1990. And was made in 1989. I'm assuming that the producers did not think much of George H.W. Bush.
(If you absolutely positively must inflict this movie on yourself, go with the RiffTrax version.)