A Dredd worth anticipating
It has only been 17 years since Sylvester Stallone graced the silver screen as Judge Dredd, a rather shambolic adaptation of the British 2000 AD comic. Realistically, though, a Rob Schneider-free reboot couldn’t possibly arrive soon enough. For the revamp, director Pete Travis has teamed with prolific English screenwriter Alex Garland to offer an action packed and intense trip into the heart of Mega City One with Dredd 3D. The tone is darkly serious as Karl Urban dons the Judge’s helmet as the titular judge, jury and executioner. With no shortage of futuristic firepower at Dredd’s disposal, the outcome is 95 minutes of truly explosive cinema.
A chase sequence through the ruins of the dystopian city kicks Dredd off; serving to introduce Urban’s no-nonsense Judge in doing so. It also provides viewers with their first taste of a spectacular slow-motion based effect that, quite literally, dazzles. A trip to the Hall of Justice brings an impressively assured Olivia Thirlby into the mix as the rookie Judge Anderson tasked with proving herself over the course of an evaluation day. However, Thirlby’s Anderson is no ordinary recruit, as she possesses a unique gift coveted by the force. Paired with the highly sceptical Dredd, the duo respond to a grisly murder scene, only to end up trapped within a towering mega-block teeming with ruthless gang members. Two hundred floors up, the ferocious leader, icily portrayed by Lena Headey, Madeline Madrigal (or Ma-Ma, for street-cred short) oversees her clan’s attempts at eliminating the two Judges in order to protect her “business” within the vast structure. There’s no denying the eerie similarities shared with Gareth Evans’ The Raid (released earlier this year). Whilst the premise is nearly identical, Dredd does much to stand apart from its close contemporary. Equally primed with adrenaline pumping action, Dredd has a stronger story to tell, even if the battle up the tower drags slightly and fails to be quite as gripping as that of The Raid.
Urban makes for an excellent, bling-free Dredd, despite being limited by the constant presence of the helmet. From the moment he pulls it over his head in the darkened opening shot, little more than his constantly scowling mouth and jutting jaw is ever exposed. Delivering his brief, terse lines through a growl that falls just short of Christian Bale’s Batman levels, Urban’s deadpan, hardnosed approach is not without ironic humour, but goes a long way to establish that this is no longer Sly’s city. Thirlby has the advantage of not having to act her way through a piece of armour; luckily for her admirers- a group certain to grow exponentially thanks to her fearless turn here. She is especially enjoyable during a wonderfully conceived and executed display of the mind games her Judge is capable of. That her character’s development manages to matter amongst the onslaught of gunfights and explosions, speaks highly of her performance. So too does that fact that at no point is Thirlby ever overshadowed by Urban’s larger-than-life Dredd. As for their target, Headey’s villainess is calculatingly ruthless and overcomes a somewhat silly moniker to bring this powerful female force-to-reckon-with to convincing life.
Having been filmed in 3D, Dredd does put the effect to impressive use throughout, though there remain imperfections apparent in tighter framed shots. Its strongest impact is felt during the slow motion sequences that allow the added dimension to be savoured in truly innovative, memorable moments. Some clever trickery is used to further the sense of the action jumping off the screen and succeeds beautifully is doing so. The stunningly stylised action scenes employ visual effects that create a true feast for the eyes. However, be warned: Dredd pulls no punches and earns its 18 certificate through a handful of particularly gruesome displays. The camera may not linger long on them, but it’s just enough to unsettle.
By and large, Dredd is smashingly successful in delivering what it intends: a full-blast visual assault with a solid narrative backbone. Some may bemoan its serious manner and gratuitous violence, but in a post-Nolan-Batman world, Travis and Urban’s Dredd hits the spot. When this Dredd declares that he is the law, it’s impossible to argue otherwise. 8.5/10