Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey
When they announced that Judge Dredd would be getting a new big-screen outing, I met the news with indifference. Having avoided the first movie incarnation in 1995 due to its poor reviews, and having never picked up a 2000AD comic, naturally I wasn’t too interested in seeing how Dredd would be portrayed this time around. Add the casting of B-list action star Karl Urban, and an unexceptional trailer and you have a recipe of boredom, right? Wrong!
The film follows Dredd, a Judge employed by the Halls of Justice to arrest criminals and dish out punishment where he sees fit, as he takes a rookie Judge (Thirlby) out on assessment into Mega-City One to investigate a multiple homicide in the Peach Trees slum tower block. What should be a routine investigation goes wrong as the two Judges are trapped inside the tower block and have to battle the drug-dealing gang leader Ma-Ma (Headey) and her goons to protect both their lives and their only witness.
Urban is an actor who, although starring in a few big movies such as Star Trek and Lord of the Rings, has yet to really break out in his own name. Indeed, Dredd is the first blockbuster that he has headlined, and I am impressed at both his performance and his presence on-screen. As I have said, I am not a fan of the source material and cannot comment at how accurately Urban portrays the character, however his Dredd is one that seems to ooze authority, dark humour and “bad-assery” and use the three in equal measures.
Another actor, or actress, using Dredd to break out is Olivia Thirlby. Whilst she has appeared in other movies I have seen, such as Juno and No Strings Attached, this is possibly her biggest role to date, and she handles it pretty well. Her rookie/psychic/”mutant” Judge brings a level of humanity and vulnerability to the film, which helps balance Dredd’s cold-hearted character, and allows the viewer to identify more with the law enforcers. She also provides some decent scenes of action too and it was easy to root for her.
Finally, Lena Headey plays the manipulative, evil and power-hungry Ma-Ma role excellently, not too dissimilar to her role in Game of Thrones. She is easily believable as the mean b**ch whose acts of violence escalate as her need to destroy the Judge-sized flies in her ointment increases, and I am looking forward to seeing how her career develops from here as she appears to be a very strong actress.
As far as the directing goes, Pete Travis (Vantage Point, Endgame) does a great job of not only making the over-the-top action seem authentic, but also presenting it in an interesting fashion. The drug being pushed by Ma-Ma is called Slo-Mo which, as the name suggests, makes the junkie feel like time is going by at 1% of normal speed. Travis combines the action and the use of the drug to great effect, with scenes of the Judges unloading clip after clip of ammunition into gang members, whilst the film is slowed down to almost stand still proportions.
Not only is the slow motion action pretty unique, but given the R-rating (18 in the UK), Travis has been given carte blanche to create something truly brutal, and dare I say more realistic than most films in this field. Set in a world where crime is at an all time high (one statistic is that the Judges can only respond to approximately 6% of the crime reported) this film did not deserve to be sugar-coated to cater for a younger audience, and what we end up with is a film that has great action and designed specifically for adults.
That being said, not only is this brutal, but there are shots of pure brilliance, such as at the beginning when Dredd is narrating, telling the story of humanity, culminating in a shot not to dissimilar to the one I have used at the top. This isn’t just a film for meat heads looking for violence, but actually one that goes the extra mile to entertain a larger crowd.
The 3D works pretty well when it is combined with the slow motion scenes, but on the whole it either doesn’t stand out, or is too strong that it hurt my eyes. If you can watch in 2D then do so.
Dredd is a balls-out, adrenaline filled film full of strong performances, good visuals and great action. If you are looking for Shakespeare, yo won’t find it here, although I think many will be surprised at how good a film this is. It will inevitably receive bad press for what it represents, namely a reboot of a failed franchise, but this is a cheap label given by those not willing to give it a try. Sadly after a poor opening weekend in the US it seems this is the end for old Dredd, and will only get worse once Looper is released, but this movie deserves more.
It deserves to be judged on it’s merits!
Rating 4 out of 5