I mentioned how much I had enjoyed Dredd at a barbecue last year, and my friend said that he wasn’t interested in seeing it because he’d already seen the Raid, which is another film where a cop has to start on the bottom floor of a fortified slum and work his way to the boss on the top floor. I was trying to argue that the two films were in fact quite different even though they had the same premise. I don’t think he was really persuaded by my argument, but I still think that the similarity between the two films actually makes both of them more interesting, not less.
Yes, both films are brutal action films with a simple straight-from-a-video-game premise, but the Raid is more or less realistic (insofar as action movies are ever realistic) while Dredd is dystopian sci-fi. That means that the tones are markedly different, and I actually preferred Dredd to the Raid because I like science fiction more than I like action. There’s an extra layer of distance between the viewers and the characters in science fiction and that made the frequent blood-splatterings in Dredd feel less weighty; they didn’t feel like real people to me so I didn’t mind them dying, especially if the ways they were being killed were going to be so ridiculous. But there was something about the plausibility of the deaths in the Raid that made the action feel more traumatic to me – that gave me a bigger sense that life in the slums was a terrible trap for those people that were caught between the over-eager police and the extra-violent thugs.
Furthermore, the Raid is more relentlessly grimy than Dredd. Both films share a filthy aesthetic, but Dredd’s plot involves a drug called slo-mo, and whenever someone take a hit of slo-mo the movie goes into a dream state that can be quite beautiful even when it’s still violent. The brief lyrical interludes do quite a bit to ease back on the film’s bleakness, but such contrivances wouldn’t really fit into The Raid, whose unrelentingness is one of it’s most prominent features.
You could complain about what a blank slate the Dredd character is (he’s never seen without his mask on and doesn’t get a backstory), and some of Dredd’s violence is really graphic, and the plot is so straight forward that I could understand how someone would think it was a simple minded film. But the black humor fit my sensibility, I thought it was well paced, and it had an inventive look to it. I still say it’s a good movie, even if it isn’t exactly the most innovative film of all time.