Dredd Review ‘Passing Judgement On Dredd’

Way back in 1995, the comic book world was rife with excitement as 2000 AD’s iconic Law giver, Judge Dredd was to make his big screen debut. With Danny Cannon directing and Sylvester Stallone starring as the Judge, what could possibly go wrong…? A poor story, wasted characters, a spandex uniform, and a camped up version of Britain’s greatest comic character who continually removed his helmet, that’s what. Maybe I’m being a little unfair, I’m sure there are a couple of people out there who enjoyed that Dredd-ful adaptation, but for me, a reboot has never been more welcome, and finally it’s here. Straight from the outset, it’s clear to see that this movie is a lot more honest and true to the classic comic series, which is in no small way due to the fact that writer and producer Alex Garland is a big fan of the comic series, as is Karl Urban who plays the future lawman.

America has become nothing more than an irradiated wasteland. On the East Coast where the country’s proud capital once stood, lies Mega City One, a vast and violent metropolis of more than 400 million citizens, all of whom are possible perpetrators. The only kind of law and order in this hopeless future comes from the Judges. More than just enforcers of the law, they are the judge, jury and executioners. The epitome of those Judges is Judge Dredd (Karl Urban). 

Following a fantastic opening sequence which involves Dredd chasing down and handing out justice to a car full of ‘perps’ on his Lawmaster, Dredd is tasked with the challenge of road testing the Justice department’s newest rookie, Cassandra Anderson, played by the beautiful Olivia Thirlby. Anderson, who narrowly failed her examination to become a Judge, has been given a second chance due to her incredibly powerful psychic abilities, and it’s down to Dredd, to get her field tested to see if she really does have what it takes to become one of Mega City One’s finest. 

Investigating a routine triple homicide, Dredd and the rookie head over to the idyllic sounding Peach Trees, which in reality is a two hundred story slum that is under the tyrannical control of former prostitute turned drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). The pair quickly track down the man responsible, but without a confession, they are forced to take him in. It just so happens that the man arrested is Ma-Ma’s head henchman, and she can’t afford for him to be taken in where he will be forced to talk. So she puts Peach Trees on lockdown, turning the two hundred story mega block into a prison, and puts out the word that she wants the Judges dead. The only way out for Dredd and Anderson is to work their way to the top and eliminate Ma-Ma.

From start to finish I was completely captivated by this movie. Director Pete Travis has done an incredible job of bringing to life the dark, hard hopelessness of Mega City One. All the traditional elements from the world of Dredd are here. The action may not quite compare to some of the summer’s other big movies, but everything else is pitch perfect, the slow motion sequences for instance are just, wow! Not being the biggest fan of 3D, I was pleasantly surprised at just how good this looks, be it shimmering droplets of water, gently flowing smoke, and of course screen splattering gore. The scenes involving Ma-Ma’s drug; slo-mo, which makes the users brain feel as if time is moving at one per cent its normal speed, are visually stunning. Viewers are treated to some incredible uses of the technology, many of which contain some of the most beautiful cinematic scenes of violence that you’re ever going to see.

Karl Urban is brilliant as Dredd, hard, gritty, and ultimately, unstoppable, a far cry from Stallone’s golden codpiece wearing spoofy portrayal. Then there is the voice; Urban has got this perfect, gruff, authoritive and filled with fear. Hearing him speak those iconic words “I am the law” as he addressed Peach Trees was almost enough to erase all those horrible memories of the previous incarnation. Olivia Thirlby is also rather good, as the sympathetic counterpart to the harshness that is Dredd. We see Dredd from her perspective, as she closely examines him. When they first meet Anderson is asked to demonstrate her impressive psychic abilities by reading Dredd‘s mind, but after a quick description of his character, Anderson  is cut off by the Chief Justice, just as she is about to reveal something deeper, adding yet more ambiguity to the character of Dredd.

The story is very contained, a One Shot if you will, but there are countless directions in which they could take this character if they were to do a sequel. From top to bottom the film is a gory, action packed, hyper-violent thing of beauty that has the potential of becoming a cult classic. Yes there are going to be many comparisons to movies like The Raid, but for me Dredd works better as a film. Whether you’re a fan of the comics, or not, this film is definitely worth watching. Judgement passed.

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