For those that haven’t heard for Judge Dredd the premise is simple. Post apocalyptic world, humanity crammed into Mega Cities, to keep them in order Judges police the streets and are authorised to dispense justice as they see fit. Even if that means splatting your brains across a wall.
Thankfully Dredd bares no resemblance to the truly terrible outing it had back in 1995 in which Sylvester Stallone slurred his way through a fucking dire rewrite of the Day the Law Tide story arc wearing a spandex bodysuit with a steel codpiece. Well, the helmets look similar and it’s got Dredd in the title.
It’s a slightly more ‘near future’ take on the Dredd universe with parts of Mega City 1 and the vehicles being identifiably current. This could annoy some but I like it, it’s a nice contrast against the shiny Lawmasters and the towering mega buildings containing tens of thousands of citizens. They’ve also gone to great lengths to make sure the uniforms and weapons make sense whilst still being obviously sci-fi and ‘Dredd-like’. The lawgiver’s make-over means it looks like it might actually work, rather than just being a ray gun with half a dial from the Game of Life glued to the top.
The plot is simple. Dredd and a rookie Judge Anderson respond to a triple homicide in a mega building which turns out to be the head quarters for a big scary gang that’s producing a drug called slo-mo which makes your brain think time is moving at 1% its normal speed and that everything is all shiny. This, of course, means sets the film up for a lot of very cool slow motion shots of people’s faces being blown open.
Which is one of Dredd’s biggest draws. The violence. The brutal, unrelenting, graphic, excessive, mind searing violence. Which is exactly as it should be. In the world of Judge Dredd life is cheap and just as the Judges can and will blow your face off in the street, the criminals of Mega City 1 are even more callous.
But the really clever thing is that it’s all set within the dark and dingy corridors of the aforementioned mega building. It makes the entire thing very claustrophobic and intense, which is great. It also neatly gets around the fact that the film had a relatively low-budget. Just to compare, Dredd cost $45million compared to the first Iron Man movie of $148million. Despite this relatively small amount of cash the film does look superb and as Dredd and Anderson work their way up the building the levels of visual awesomeness, and therefore violence increases exponentially.
And at the heart of that violence is Dredd who dispenses justice with efficient brutality. At one point, after Ma-Ma attempts to take out Dredd with no less than 3 Gatling guns he emerges from the ruined level unharmed only to throw one of her minions over the balcony as a warning that shit is about to get real. And real the shit does become.
Karl Urban does a fantastic job of portraying the grim and unrelenting Judge Dredd from the permanent scowl to the dry one-liners. Olivia Thirlby, who is utterly stunning even in her Judge get-up, does an admirable job playing a wide-eyed rookie who gradually becomes the Judge she needs to be kicking a healthy amount of arse and taking the associated names. And, incredibly, writer and director resisted the urge to make the relationship romantic.
The thing that makes Dredd so good is that it doesn’t attempt to show off or being anything other than a faithful adaptation from the 2000AD comic loved the world over. The violence is traumatisingly bloody. Because it is in the comic. The humour is dry and borderline inappropriate. Because it is in the comic. The plot is uncomplicated allowing novices to ease themselves into a very grim future and the harshness of life. Equally the bad guy is, relatively, a nobody. Whereas the Christopher Nolan Batman movies (which increasingly piss me off the more I think about them) dishes out super villians which it then had to definitely ‘deal with’, Dredd resists the obvious urge to bust out the Angel Gang, Chopper or, heaven for fend, Judge Death. Instead what it offers is one of the coolest double hard bastard characters ever seen kicking the living shit out of people for 96 minutes.
And that’s another big tick on the list. It’s only an hour and a half. Average run time for films in the last few years has been two hours and more than a few shouldn’t have been. Dredd stays focussed on a winning cocktails of escalating violence, subtle and gradual character development and some truly stunning visuals that may have just convinced me that 3D is actually worth it. Because, seriously, it looks incredible. Not because it’s a sensory overload like Avatar, but because it uses the three-dimensional space very cleverly so you actually feel in the room that’s going bat shit crazy rather than on the edge.
Every comic book film I’ve come out, however much I’ve enjoyed it, of I’ve always uttered the same phrase; ‘that was great…but’ because there was always something that didn’t sit quite right or had been changed unnecessarily. When I came out of Dredd all I said was ‘wow’.