September 12, 2012 3 Comments
Tasked by the Chief Judge (Rakie Ayola) with evaluating rookie recruit Judge Cassandra (Olivia Thirlby), an orphaned mutant who has failed the more traditional entry tests, Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) takes her on a routine assignment to shanty tower block Peach Trees in order to investigate a triple homicide. Sealed into the complex by Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), a drug-lord looking to protect her fledgling Slo-Mo empire, Dredd and Cassandra are targeted by a mix of hardened henchman and terrified inhabitants as they attempt to scale the tower and serve Ma-Ma the justice she deserves.
With its basis in the comic-book created by John Wagner and Carlos Esquerra, Pete Travis’ Dredd attempts to return the character to his blood-soaked beginnings after 1995’s campy Sylvester Stallone misfire. Stripped back, not least because of its considerable budgetary constraints, Dredd is an ultra-violent if relatively modest affair: a day-in-the-life of one of the comic-book industry’s most enduring icons. While an opening salvo serves to introduce us to the sprawling Mega-City One, expertly (and economically) teasing a number of elements that will come into play later, we are soon confined to a single concrete high-rise as the movie hits its booted stride.
Considering just how well-cast Urban was as Bones in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, it is perhaps surprising to see just how similarly suited the actor is to the role of Judge Dredd. With only his chin on show for most of the movie (except for a shadowy introduction that does nothing to demystify the character), Urban is all laboured physicality and practised grimace, dispatching drug dealers and murderers with the utmost calm and the occasional quip. Not since Ron Perlman’s Hellboy has an actor been so perfectly suited to a role.
Surprisingly, for such a boys-own production, however, it’s the film’s woman that ultimately steal the show. All too often reduced to love interests or femme fatales, writer Alex Garland has instead taken the time to develop his female characters beyond simple clichés. Thirlby excels as telepathic tenderfoot Cassandra; the conscience to Dredd’s conscientiousness, she has a firm handle on the film’s only real character arc while duly holding her own against two hundred floors of foes. Headey, meanwhile, is an understaded joy as the film’s antagonist, even if she isn’t given as much to do as she most likely deserves.
While many have cited Dredd‘s similarities to Gareth Evans’ acclaimed Indonesian actioner — the plot is almost identical — as one of its biggest flaws, such comparisons in fact serve the film rather well. The Raid may have had seasons martial artists in front of the camera and a Welsh maverick behind, but it ultimately lacked the character and flair to make it anything other than a well-toned pulse-pounder. Dredd, on the other hand, is surprisingly artsy in its depiction of Peach Trees, with the impeccably implemented 3D, over-exposed Slo-Mo trips and gratuitous violence giving it a personality that Evans’ film lacked. Even if, as with The Raid, the finale is somewhat repetitive and ultimately anticlimactic.
17 years on from Danny Cannon’s much maligned Judge Dredd — which removed the characters helmet and exchanged it for some ill-advised comic relief, much to the comic contingent’s displeasure — Pete Travis has finally managed to do the judge some cinematic justice. Dredd is arguably an instant classic, if not necessarily a flawless film.