I have to admit to a certain amount of ignorance here, an ignorance that will probably have people clamouring to tell me my opinion is invalid. I’ve read very, very little of the Judge Dredd comics. I’ve read enough to know he’s a gruff no-nonsense Dirty Harry type, struggling to impose law in the sprawling urban jungle of Mega-City One, where committing a crime will earn you instant judgement at the hands of a police force who are judge, jury and executioner. Luckily you don’t need a detailed knowledge of the history of 2000AD’s flagship character to enjoy this film.
Dredd is gritty and dirty, smeared with dust and drenched in blood. Given its relatively low budget of around $45m, it’s a slick and well-polished beast with moments of pure beauty even amongst the sequences of brutal, visceral violence.
The plot is simple; Judge Dredd, accompanied by rookie-under-assessment Anderson, goes to what should be a routine crime-scene investigation which quickly escalates into all-out bullets-and-explosions fest as they get tangled up in the criminal web of drug baron Ma-Ma. Trapped in a high rise and hunted by every lowlife in the building, Dredd and Anderson must fight their way up to confront her and put an end to the production of the illegal narcotic Slo-Mo.
This Mega-City One is no BladeRunner-alike future city, all smog and neon signs. This is a much more realistic affair, a near future dystopia that has more in common with Robocop’s crime-overrun New Detroit. Ugly high-rises stab upwards throughout the city, filthy overcrowded skyscraping slums. I love me a good dystopia, and this one’s the perfect setting for the hard and fast action sequences.
And what action sequences they were!MichaelBay, take note. They were fast-paced without being blurry and impossible to follow with the human eye. I was completely aware of what was going on during each gunfight and was able to enjoy them the more for it, exactly as it should be. It’s nice to see an action film bucking the emerging trend of headache-inducing shakiness.
The centrepieces of the film for me are the Slo-Mo sequences. The drug is well-named; it slows down the user’s perception of time so they experience things at 1% normal speed. Naturally, this is a great gimmick that gets used plenty, though not so much that it gets old. They strike a very good balance. It’s a great opportunity for lashings of the old ultraviolence in glorious slow motion. These scenes are visually stunning, a beautiful ballet of bullets and blood. During one scene, you can briefly see the teeth inside a thug’s mouth through the hole that Dredd has conveniently blown in his cheek. Amazing.
It’s not all about the action, of course. The actors all do a fine job, from the leads down to Henchman #3 and Armed Goon #42. Karl Urban is excellent as Dredd, though he hasn’t quite got the chin for it. What he lacks in face-chisellage he more than makes up for in demeanour, though. He delivers his lines through clenched teeth, channelling Clint Eastwood as he spits out deadpan one-liners. True to the character, that helmet that Stallone kept taking off at every opportune moment? Never leaves Urban’s head. He does all his acting from the nose down, and while it must have been tricky I would suggest he has it nailed. Dredd’s costume is fantastic, the perfect fascist fetishwear for the gun-toting lawman of the future.
Lena Headey plays the villanous Ma-Ma, an ex-prostitute turned gang leader with a vicious streak and a hardon for torture. Of the main 3 characters she has the least to work with, character-wise, but she does her best with what she’s given and turns in a memorable performance. Ma-Ma is no Cersei Lannister, but she’s certainly one damn mean mother.
It’s Olivia Thurlby’s young and idealistic Anderson who’s the standout for me, though. She’s the eyes of the audience and the one who takes the emotional journey; as a result she’s the one you engage with the most. Not quite ready to be a judge (3% off passing her final exam – to Dredd, though, a fail is a fail is a fail), she gets her chance by virtue of having psychic powers. These, accompanied by her ability to kick righteous ass when called upon, make her quite formidable. She gets into a troublesome situation that veers sharply into damsel-in-distress territory, but suffice to say she doesn’t need Dredd to rescue her.
In all, while my expectations may not have been sky-high, I was certainly entertained. Dredd is a high octane romp, well deserving of the 18 certificate it’s been given. It’s not for the faint of heart or those expecting a cuddly kid-friendly flick just because it’s a comic book film. Comics books aren’t just for kids, just as comic book adaptations aren’t just for kids. 2000AD was a great example of that, as is this film.
It’s well worth checking out – I give it 4 stars and a mandatory sentence of 2 weeks in an iso-cube.