Tired of the same old big cutesy superhero films coming over from America? I know I am. But oh look – whose coming over from the British Isles to come and deliver some hard justice? Could it be? Yes! It’s Judge Dredd… thankfully not as Sylvester Stallone this time.
In the future, most of the Earth is an irradiated wasteland and people cling to life in gigantic, crime-ridden cities. In America’s Mega-City One, the only form of law and order in the chaos are the Judges – judge, jury, and executioners – who uphold the law. The most known of whom is Judge Dredd (Karl Urban, Star Trek). On a routine day, Dredd is charged with evaluating psychic rookie Anderson (Olivia Thirlby, Juno). She picks a rather normal murder investigation in the worst-of-the-worst, 200 floor Peach Trees residential block; this promptly goes up the creek when the gangleader on the top floor, Ma-Ma (Lena Headey, Game Of Thrones), locks down the block to stop Dredd and Anderson from finding her Slo-Mo drug factory. It’s then up to Dredd to take down Ma-Ma and her gang, by delivering justice in the only way he knows how.
What could have been an easy acting trip to ridicule, Urban is marvellous as Dredd; he’s spot-on and delivers exactly what people want from a big screen Dredd; he’s does a ridiculous amount of acting with just his mouth and chin movements alone, and while his constant gravelled up voice could have been laughable, it really works – and the delivery of Dredd’s immortal catchphrase is subtle enough to be taken seriously. Also, he, dare I say it, makes Dredd human, with the trauma he goes through. Urban clearly cared enough about the character to give it his all and we’re rewarded with a marvellous page-to-screen character adaptation.
Thrilby is decent as the first-day-on-the-job Anderson who goes through everything and more in her final attempt at earning a spot with the Hall of Judges (she looks just like 2000AD’s female judge and is easy on the eye), and while Headey isn’t offensive as Ma-Ma, she lacks any real conviction, and isn’t believable as a threat to Dredd at any point.
Dredd the film, like it’s titular character, works as an excellent antidote to the numerous American superhero titans; whilst too many of these films over the last 10-15 years have dealt with constant origin stories and men in spandex being emotional, Dredd shows us “a day in the life of…”. Everything is done and dusted in one film, representing an “average” day. And that day is a glorious, violent alternative, take from an alternative comic book character, in a genre otherwise lacking any variety. What’s best is, there’s enough held back for audiences to want more Dredd, in a good way.
Mega-City One’s scene setting is also superb; filming in South Africa was a great choice (the slum-esque element of parts of the country accurately recreates the super city and it’s shocking crime aspect), and Peach Trees is wonderfully recreated as a really horrible place to live with, no real cleanliness to it all. In fact, the whole film has a nice dirty feel to it, reflecting both Dredd’s character, and the world he lives in, with the whole Judge culture being treated as a fair response to the violent escalation of the underworld in this post-apocalyptic world; with the various equipment, ammunition and armoured costumes; they mean business, and that is perfectly and accurately shown here on film, and whilst not really going into the fascist aspect of the character, Dredd’s still shown as a man who believes in the law, and someone who will do anything to reinforce it.
You may have noticed a very similar plot to this year’s The Raid, and as good as this big screen Dredd is, the story is nowhere near as engaging as it’s Asian rival, despite being filmed first and taking the extra time to include the 3-D elements and various effects; Dredd is a tad one-note compared to the admittedly more glorious action spectacle of The Raid; with the Indonesian martial-action-fest being a lot tighter and more surprising story wise. Here, we know that Dredd is going to run roughshot over Ma-Ma’s gang and then some, with not much else.
That doesn’t mean that the action is disappointing; there are more than one or two action set pieces here that are definitely memorable; the scene where Ma-Ma wastes an entire half of the tower block’s floor is marvellously extreme (with Dredd retreating away from gunfire and residents getting mutilated left and right), and there’s enough blood and gore to appease the most brutal of fans, with the 3D aspects being more than acceptable (and explaining why there are so many more 3D screenings than 2D at most cinemas).
The Slo-mo drug effects (where the taker’s perspective on time is slowed right down) are marvellous; taking viewers in a near sugar-coated, brightly lit, experience that they may not want to come back from; they are really trippy, worth the stupidly long time post production took to get it right, and tease some magnificent set pieces. There are a few other neat blood effects which also make the 3D viewing worthwhile, although a copy of the film on Blu-Ray may have been a happier medium.
The big problem with Dredd is that we’ve seen a film just like it this year already. The lack of a decent villain hurts, and it gets a bit tedious watching Dredd running wild only for a random set of villains to be crowbarred in near the end for a “threat”. However, after the dodgy Stallone movie, this film has gone a very long way to repay the Dredd fans’ faith with an awesome page-to-screen job, and an excellent alternative to the overplayed American comic book films. Not Dredd-ful at all!