We live in the golden age of comic book movies. Well, that is to say we live in the golden age of movies adapted from American comic books. British comics are less of a success story when it’s come to adapting them for the big screen. For every Watchmen or Kick-Ass there has been a Tank Girl, a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or even a From Hell. Firmly belonging in the latter list was 1995′s Judge Dredd, a Sylvester Stallone vehicle that couldn’t have missed the point of Dredd harder if it tried and scuppered any chance of Dredd being taken seriously (at least cinematically) for a decade or so. So here we have a new take on the series, simply called “Dredd”, starring Karl Urban, aiming to right the wrongs of the Stallone nightmare.
Okay, quick rundown. We’re in the future. Most of America is a nuclear wasteland. There is a gigantic, sprawling city built on the remains and rubble called Mega City One, which is a bustling, violent metropolis. Law enforcement is different. Instead of police, Mega City One has Judges- helmeted clompy booted scary mofos who act as not only judge, but jury and executioner as well, often dispensing justice by executing criminals on the spot. Anyway, we follow Judge Joseph Dredd (Karl Urban) as he and his rookie partner Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) answer a routine call in a place called Peach Trees- a 200 story megastructure run by druglord and gang leader Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). However, tits go up when the building is locked down, forcing Dredd and Anderson to fight their way through the building to get to Ma-Ma and find out the link between what’s going on and a new drug called Slo-Mo, which has flooded the street due to its ability to make users to feel like time is passing at 1% its normal speed.
If all that multiple floors/slumlord business is sounding familiar it’s probably because you saw Indonesian/Welsh bonecruncher The Raid earlier this year. Whilst there are similarities, Dredd is its own beast. There have been certain grotty pockets of the Internet accusing Dredd of ripping The Raid off, but these sweaty losers have failed to take into account that a) the Dredd script was written before The Raid’s b) the whole “being trapped in a building and having to fight your way out” is hardly new with The Towering Inferno and Die Hard exemplifying two different takes decades before and c) nobody gives a fuck. Karl Urban is a fantastic Dredd. He gives a suitably stoic and gruff performance as the no-nonsense Judge. Dredd wears a grimace the entire time and it just makes him a joy to watch. Olivia Thirlby surprised me as Anderson, giving a tough but endearing turn and picking up the emotional slack left by Dredd. Lena Headey continues her impressive streak of being awesome in everything she’s in as the vicious Ma-Ma.
Not being up on my 2000AD, I can’t really comment on how well the film adheres to the source material. I know a bit and the general consensus from fans seems to be that’s its a pretty faithful adap. What I really liked about Dredd is that it keeps things practical if it can. It gives a realistic, gritty version of the future without CGI overkill as seen in this year’s Total Rehash (see what I did there?). That’s not to say it’s bleak and boring though, it’s a damn stylish film at times with the obvious standouts being the super-saturated Slo-Mo sequences. My mouth was agape at some of the shots. It almost justifies the 3D tax too. For a film that was apparently shot in 3D, it all looked pretty flat to me, with the exception of the aforementioned trippy bits. Perhaps I was wearing the specs back-to-front or something.
I think the main word for Dredd is “uncompromised”. Whilst it does make efforts to make Dredd seem heroic, this is probably the closest we’ll get to the inked anti-hero. Dredd growls out cheesy one-liners whilst never changing his expression and thankfully isn’t forced to go on some kind of “emotional journey”. He’s exactly the same as when he went in, except dirtier and bloodier. The film makes full use of its 18 certificate, containing some of the most disgustamazing (not a word, should be) stuff I’ve seen in a long time. Wince-inducing highlights include some action with three mini-guns and a shootout on Slo-Mo. The action never hits the highs that it should, but it does well enough, somehow keeping constant shootouts from boring people, mostly thanks to the kick-ass Lawgiver gun which has all kinds of fun ammunition including armour-piercing and my personal favourite: “Hot Shot”.
It’s tough to nail down my main problem with Dredd. I feel that the film is caught between two worlds. On the one hand it aims to be schlocky and fun, like a Paul Verhoeven picture, and on the other hand it’s gritty and bleak. I wanted the action to be better because I felt the film deserved it, with its compelling setting and characters. The lack of a consistent tone became a bit of a problem for me. The middle section is a bit plodding too, with Dredd wandering around dark, samey corridors waiting for the plot to kick in again.
Dredd is great. It’s not perfect and there are a few things that let it down for me, but the runtime just flew by. It completely eradicates memories of the 1995 disaster and establishes solid foundations to be built upon. We have a decent style, an awesome Dredd and Anderson and plenty to work with when it comes to sequels. Let’s just hope it does decent enough business. Recommended.