2012_dredd posterKarl Urban is Judge Dredd. It’s a simple as that.

He and the filmmakers Pete Travis, Alex Garland and Andrew MacDonald have now given us the most definitive take on the 2000AD character and crafted a film that, while it has its flaws, lays to rest the horrible memory of the 1995 incarnation of the character.

As readers of the comic will know, the world lies in ashes. Humanity has fled to the Mega-Cities, walled in from the wasteland of the Cursed Earth, and corralled in huge numbers in gigantic City Blocks where outlaws and criminals have the opportunity to run wild and free. They would, that is, except for the Judges. Given the role of judge, jury and executioner, they carry out the law. They are the law.

Dredd2However, crime clan bosses beg to differ, particularly one named Ma Ma (Lena Heady), who oversees the creation and distribution of a drug called Slo-Mo, which slows down the user’s perception of time to 1%. This would appear to come in handy for the cruellest of executions as well and it is one such event that draws the attention of Judge Dredd (Urban), Mega-City One’s toughest and most ruthless enforcer, along with his rookie partner, the psychic Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby). Trapped inside Peach Trees, Ma-Ma’s Block, they must work their way through her armed goons, terrified citizens and other gangs if they are to escape.

This is Judge Dredd as he was meant to be on the big screen; in character, at any rate. Karl Urban, who said he would only play the role if he did not remove the helmet, obviously knows and loves the character, playing him straight out of the comics with the same steely grit and unrelenting commitment to the law that made him so famous. His Dredd has no time for quips or cringe-worthy action one-liners. He is all about seizing the perps and passing judgement with faceless (mostly) implacability and Urban nails the part and makes it his own forever.

Dredd4But credit also to the writer, who knows Dredd’s world and his place in it. This Mega-City One is not the futuristic and dazzling sci-fi metropolis of 1995. It is a dark, grimy and harsh place, where criminals run riot, terrorising the innocent and acting without conscience. It needs the Judges and their single mindedness and is consequently far more believable than before. Another consequence of this is the decision to show the real effects of this kind of situation. Blood, exploding limbs (never try to use a Judge’s weapon…), skinnings and heads incinerated from within are the order of the day along with Dredd’s characteristic choice of shots from his Lawgiver, wreaking havoc on both sides.

We are plunged into a claustrophobic world on more than one level where Dredd and Anderson become trapped in the City Block, a dank, broken place where gangs rule through fear and addiction. The decision to set the action in these confines this would seem to stem from the lower budget constraints of the film but for all intents and purposes, it works here. What could be a cheesy sci-fi actioner becomes a tense and violent thriller where morals are questioned and black and white thinking is ultimately challenged, surely the point of the character.

Dredd1While not dealing directly with the more satirical aspects of Dredd’s character, the film still chooses to challenge this with Anderson. Born a mutant, she has dealt with prejudice and knows that people in these circumstances often make decisions out of desperation and not evil. Olivia Thirlby excels, keeping Anderson a more sober and less snappy character than she is in the comics, and working well with Urban’s unforgiving authoritarian. Lena Heady creates one of the more particularly cruel villains we’ve seen for some time but not without instilling a sense of quiet tragedy to Ma-Ma. As with others of her kind, she knows time is not on her side and lives every moment with the ruthlessness of the doomed.

Where the film does fall down is in some of the design, but this is surely a result of the lower budget the filmmakers have had to work with. Vehicles are four wheeled and familiar, clothes are urban and much of the film has a very contemporary feel to it. There is a far more real world look going on that is reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman; in particular, Dredd’s uniform is far more reserved and utilitarian than even in the comics and looks more like the way he was originally drawn in the 1970s. Much of this realism can work to a degree but the more time spent in the sunshine, the more things seem less futuristic and more obvious and the film functions far better when in close quarters, dealing with the characters and the immediate jeopardy.

Dredd5While the main story of the film has also been seen before (comparisons with The Raid are unfair as production of Dredd preceded that, but Die Hard and 16 Blocks are in there), the spirit of Dredd’s comic origins lifts it all. Worthy of note as well is the Slo-Mo drug effect itself. Working well with the 3D, there is an incredibly cinematic feel to a lot of it and it lends one particular character’s demise a sense of both beauty and tragedy that no comic panel could easily reproduce.

Issues of budget and storytelling ambition aside, this is the film Dredd fans pretty much wanted. Unrelenting, unforgiving, often brutal but not without a dark humour, Dredd is as good a start to what could be a difficult character as anyone could hope for. Go see it. It’s the Law.

Dredd is now on general release





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