The 2012 movie Dredd came and went having barely registered a blip on my radar. This was for a couple of reasons. It was a big time for comic cross-over films (think The Avengers and The Amazing Spiderman) and I can distinctly remember being quite bored with most of them. That, and the fact that I loathed the 1995 “Judge Dredd” starring Sly Stallone left me less than motivated to see this new imagining of Dredd about which I had heard nothing. A friend of mine went along to see it and afterwards told me that I should take a look. It took me more than a year but last December I watched the DVD and was (very) impressed. I watched it again yesterday and was impressed again, impressed enough to pen this review.
The movie itself depicts a dystopian, post nuclear holocaust future where mankind is huddled into “mega-cities” with populations of nearly a billion people. “Mega-City One” is depicted in the movie as a sprawling walled city that looks for all the world like Los Angeles but sprinkled with towering 200 story apartment blocks that house 50,000 plus people. As you’d imagine such an environment has rampant crime (with more than 17,000 crimes reported daily according to a voice-over), extreme poverty and unemployment, and plot-device appropriate highly addictive narcotics. Law in Mega City One is enforced by “judges” who act as police officer, juror, judge, and in some cases executioner when a “perp” deserves such justice. These one man (or woman) armies ride around on motorcycles (the Lawmaster) dispensing justice with their sophisticated side-arm (the Lawgiver). They wear black armour and a face covering helmet that makes them look for all the world like slightly grungy Darth Vader wannabees.
That all sounds pretty grim and with almost all comic book cross-over movies depicting a some sort of bleak future with a troubled hero it seems almost de-rigueur. But unlike so many other movies Dredd is faithful to the source material, and if anything, guilty of perhaps underselling how bad life in a mega city might be. And Judge Dredd (for whom the movie is named) is not your typical angsty troubled super-hero of the last 15 years. He’s a cold, imposing bad-ass. Karl Urban (who we know from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Star Trek reboots, and a couple of the Bourne movies) plays Dredd as an anonymous, incorruptible, unstoppable figure who cuts a path through this movie like an elemental force. When the helmeted Urban (we never see his entire face during the movie) announces over a PA system that “I am the Law” I grinned in anticipation at the mayhem that would ensue. When Sylvester Stallone uttered the same words in the execrable 1995 “Judge Dredd” he sounded like a brain damaged Rocky Balboa. While we’re talking about actors, there’s a couple of others I recognised in this movie. There’s Lena Headley (from The 300 and The Game of Thrones) who plays the scar-faced gang leader “Ma-Ma” and Olivia Thirlby who we saw in Juno and the neat Russian sci-fi movie, The Darkest Hour. Thirlby plays Dredd’s psychic rookie partner “Judge Anderson” who is a recurring character in the 2000AD source material.
The movie itself has a basic plot (which I won’t bother talking about) and a grim and grimy appearance. Most of the action takes place in one of the 200 story mega towers called Peach Trees and when I say action I mean action. There’s a lot of it and most of it is both visually spectacular and confronting. This is not a movie for the squeamish. Some of the deaths depicted are fairly horrific. The special effects appeared to be mostly practical (not much CGI to see here) with costumes, props, and weapons being fairly recognisable. It’s not hard to see the technology depicted in this movie being available just 10 or 20 years from now. This makes it a lot more involving for me, as compared with for example, the technology depicted the recent (and enjoyable) movie, Oblivion.
Two viewings of the movie have left me wanting to get my hands on some 2000AD comics. I read a number of them in my early teens and I can remember them being grim, gory affairs and quite distinct to the other comics I happened to be reading at the time. It’s also left me wanting to watch the movie again because I actually found the second viewing quite a bit more fun than the first. A sequel would be great too but given the poor box-office that’s highly unlikely. There is bit of a campaign by fans to get a sequel made including a Make a Dredd Sequel Facebook page and I can only wish them best of luck. Dredd is a look at what is an unlikely future but a future that is easily understood by anyone from modern western society. It’s visually confronting and has a superb depiction of a classic comic book hero. Sure the plot is simple but one cannot help but enjoy the ride on the shoulders of Judge Dredd as he dispenses justice without bias or favour. If you’re a fan of sci-fi and don’t mind a bit of gore then I cannot recommend Dredd any more highly.