Release Date: September 7, 2012
Director: Pete Travis
Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey
Judge Dredd is a difficult character to get right. Hollywood learned this the hard way when bringing the universally derided Sly Stallone vehicle Judge Dredd to the screen in 1995. If there is one thing that Dredd gets perfect this time round, it is Karl Urban’s portrayal of its title character. Cold, emotionless and brutally violent; Judge Joseph Dredd makes Dirty Harry look like a dirty liberal. The rest of the film stands up too; it certainly has enough flair and originality to set it apart from your average comic book adaptation, and provides enough eye-poppingly gory violence to satisfy proper action fans.
In this adaptation, Dredd is teamed up with rookie psi-judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) to test her psychic abilities in the field. When the call comes in to report a triple homicide, the duo head out to Peach Trees: one of the many gigantic skyscrapers that litter the skyline of Mega City 1. Once there, they discover that the entire block is controlled by Mama (Lena Headey), a ruthless ex-prostitute -turned -gang leader who is using the building to manufacture a new drug called ‘Slo Mo’. When the judges try to interfere, Mama locks them in the tower block and sends her henchmen to hunt them down.
What follows is an often entertaining, if patchy sixty minutes. More than anything, the film has been attracting comparisons with the sublime Indonesian action flick The Raid; arguably the best action film of the last few years. This is hardly surprising given the near identical plot, but it seems unfair to compare them so directly: when compared with The Raid, 90% of this years’ releases are going to come off worse. Saying that, Dredd’s action sequences aren’t the most exciting, and often feel heavy and confused. One sequence featuring four helmeted judges was hard to follow simply because there was almost no way of differentiating between them. There is plenty of bloody violence to make up for this though: 80s and 90s action lovers will relish the chance to see an actioner that hasn’t been compromised for a 12A rating, something that happens too much these days (I’m looking at you, Len Wiseman, with your thoroughly sanitised takes on Total Recall and the Die Hard franchise).
Dredd is not simply adult because of its revelling in blood and guts, however. It feels mature in other ways too. The drug ‘Slo Mo’ also provides a neat way of showcasing slow motion in a way that doesn’t feel entirely pointless, and actually provides a bittersweet edge to the central message of the film. The effects of the drug make the workings of the brain slow down to 1% of its usual speed, causing the world around them to slow almost to a stand still. These moments are genuinely striking, with the frame bursting with life and colour. In a future this authoritarian and grim, you can hardly blame the users for wanting to escape into this world of genuine beauty. Although, one cannot help but snigger at the obvious comparisons between this and a corresponding segment in Chris Morris’ Brass Eye.
As it stands, Dredd is a film that, whilst not perfect, is worthy of your attention. It bravely combines a grim outlook of the future with elements of satire, comedy and moments of genuine originality and beauty. And like the best Sci Fi, it provides a mirror to contemporary society that feels both relevant and disquieting. Its flaws make this just shy of a four star film, but it is a solid film with plenty to enjoy, and due to it’s smaller independent nature*, doesn’t feel compromised by studio pressure.
*While $45, 000, 000 may seem like a huge sum of money, it’s pennies compared to your average blockbuster.