Director: Pete Travis
Writer: Alex Garland
Stars: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Wood Harris
Release date: September 7th, 2012
Distributors: Entertainment Film Distribution, Lionsgate
Countries: UK, South Africa
Running time: 95 minutes
Best part: The hyper-stylised visuals.
Worst part: Several cheesy one liners.
Before this film, most people were unaware of the vigilante comic book character known as Judge Dredd. Despite the existence of the 1995 Sylvester Stallone version, the character desperately needed a reboot to bring him back into the spotlight. This new adaptation of the 2000 AD comics character is one of the year’s biggest surprises, providing an entertaining and visceral action flick unlike any other in recent memory. Derivative yet fun, Dredd provides a lot more than just a simple minded actioner aimed squarely at teenage boys.
Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) begins this story by describing the problems with protecting the innocent civilians of dystopian district Mega City One; a major part of the ruin of the old world. He is judge, jury and executioner in the city’s run down streets; dishing out violence unapologetically to anyone on the opposite side of the law. His cold persona conflicts with his evaluation of newcomer Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), taking her on tour around the city while testing her limits to the maximum. Their first investigation together leads to the lock down of a giant apartment complex known as ‘Peach Trees’; Ruled over by vicious gangster and drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). The assault against Dredd and Anderson leads them to cut down anyone in their path and stop the new outbreak of super drug Slo-mo; known to slow the conscious mind down to 1% its normal speed.
This adaptation of Judge Dredd is much like Urban’s take on the character; its lean, mean and moves as briskly as possible. Director Pete Travis (Vantage Point) proves he can borrow from his influences while still creating a truly unique and enjoyable work of cinematic mayhem. The ‘Blade Runner meets Robocop‘ style of Dredd is indicative of classic 80’s era sci-fi action films, known for creating influential production designs, shocking violence and gore sequences, and memorable characters. Travis’ clear affection for the apparently disgustingly dark source material has paid off, creating an action flick so gritty and vile to watch that each murder affects you to the core. Mega City One is a rich plethora of concrete landscapes and blood and graffiti stained settings. The film also effectively captures a sickly claustrophobic feel for the city’s most prominent housing complex and gangster hideout. The city appears to be nothing but a crumbling economy and setting for gangland warfare, and so Dredd’s devotion to cleaning up the severely decaying streets proves to be one man brutally fighting a losing battle. Following a story similar to the revelatory 2012 Indonesian action flick The Raid, Dredd overcomes its unoriginal premise to create an impressively staged sci-fi action flick filled with charismatic characters. Working with a somewhat conventional screenplay by Alex Garland (28 Days Later), Travis creates several lasting images and affecting action set pieces, thankfully moving this simple story at a breakneck pace. John Woo’s explosive and gory action style is used to create one impressively staged hallway shoot out after another.
“Negotiation’s over. The sentence is death.” (Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), Dredd).
While the added incentive of exploding heads, gorgeous slow motion murders and brutal fist fights provides an action film unafraid of breaking the norms of modern ‘Hollywood’ action cinema. Paul Verhoeven(Total Recall, Robocop)’s style is also a clear influence here, providing a pulpy edge for every blood splatter and decapitation on display. The slo-mo gun fights convey a comic strip feel for each bullet ripping straight through Dredd’s victims, in the vein of Frank Miller(Sin City)’s dirty comic-book style. Despite simple dialogue and more than a few unfunny comedic moments, Karl Urban still proceeds to maintain his likeable presence on screen, becoming arguably the next Clint Eastwood. Much like Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, Urban delivers a fun performance despite having his face covered throughout the entire film. His dedication to the Judge Dredd comic series has paid off, creating a threatening mix of Dirty Harry and Denzel Washington’s character Alonzo from Training Day. Acting only with his jaw and fang-like teeth, the Lord of the Rings and Star Trek actor has once again earned serious contention for A-list status. Also providing a solid turn in an unlikely role is Olivia Thirlby (Ellen Page’s best friend in Juno) as the nervous yet determined Judge Anderson. Performing the cliché rookie role with both sensitivity and naivety, her partnership with Urban works wonders for their awkward dialogue sequences together. Put through gunfire, fist fights and scary hallucinations, her character provides the human touch needed in this already tough as nails sci-fi action extravaganza.
Certainly, Dredd is packed with stylistic and story elements known to sink similar movies. However, in the midst of it all, the final product pulls everything together to creative an enjoyable blockbuster. Judge Dredd lays down the law!