Originally, I was going to avoid this. The trailers didn’t really tickle my fancy and Karl Urban is a bit hit and miss (Doom being a prime example). What Stallone did to the character in the previous, abomination of an adaptation (YOU NEVER TAKE OFF THE HELMET!!) also put me, and the legions of fanboys off.
The 2000AD comic stories were, and still are, different to the mainstream Marvel & DC fare. They are much darker, more sinister, and with more realism entwined in its stories than what we have come to expect from other stables. The first movie took some great elements from the 2000AD universe (the Angel Gang, ABC Warriors) and made them tame: disappointing.
Then there is the current trend of making movies 12A friendly with The Hunger Games being the most recent of casualties. So when Dredd was first announced I wasn’t buying it.
But then I started hearing good things.
Critic reviews were coming back as being very positive. Heck, on Rotten Tomatoes, at the time of deliberating on whether I should go see it or not, the rating was 90%! The certificate was not 12A but a full on 18. I also heard that the helmet does NOT come off! So I shed my preconceptions, donned the spouse on the arm, and bravely ventured forth to the eXtreme(!) screen at Vue Westfields.
You are first introduced to the action in a no holds barred chase through Mega City One. The city is shown in daylight, which may shock some who are used to cities of the future caked in never ending darkness (Blade Runner, the first Judge Dredd movie are just two examples). This expansive view helps to portray the vastness of the city using the host South African locations as fantastic backdrops. The mega towers in the city are just that: mega! These futuristic megaliths tower over the sprawling city below. These are self contained towns, if you like, rather than residential blocks and blend in to the Durban/Cape Town layouts perfectly. South Africa is now a hotbed of movie activity, and it should be welcomed if they can play host to movies like this and the fabulous District 9.
That initial chase sets you up well for the rest of the movie. It’s a throwback to all of those 80’s no holds barred action movies like Robocop, in fact the opening scene was so reminiscent of Murphy’s exploits, and others of its ilk that I felt like I was right back there, hairstyles and shoulder pads aside. During the chase you are introduced to a form of drug called Slo-Mo. When users take this substance their brain interprets everything much more slowly, this is shown by the film employing slow motion. It reminded me of ‘Bullet-Time’ in the Max Payne games and the method of filming is used several times to great effect throughout the running time.
It’s immediately obvious that this movie will not go on without a brutal bang or two. The violence is ongoing throughout and at some points even I found it difficult to watch (and hear!). Let me tell you now, if you ever wondered what a bullet through the mouth would look like in slow motion, this is the film for you, because it shows you, about a million times.
The gist of the plot surrounds the Peach Tree tower and its chief inhabitant, Ma-Ma, played by Lena Headey. A one time hooker who was scarred by her pimp and decided to take revenge in a very Lorena Bobbit manner. She then proceeded to take over the tower and build a drug empire, ruthlessly.
As an antagonist, Lena Headey comes off ok, yes she does evil things but there was always the impression that once Dredd got to her, it would be a non-entity of an encounter, ending with a bullet through the mouth……………….in slow motion. To counter her lack of presence, Dredd (and his psychic sidekick Judge Anderson played by the lovely Olivia Thirlby) are sent hordes of tower residents to take on. If you have stopped there, and are thinking: ‘Wait, isn’t this just like The Raid?’ You’d be right, but the guys in The Raid didn’t have a Lawgiver did they!?! No they bloody well didn’t.
Thirlby plays the Anderson character very well and she grows the character from the timid introduction into a fully fledged Judge by the end; her psychic powers growing with her as the chaos surrounds her and Dredd.
How about Karl Urban? Has he done the character justice? Does he get past the considerable handicap of only being able to use his chin to act? I’d have to give that a resounding yes! Dredd is not really a hero, he is a fascist, a thug, a bully, who just happens to be on our side. Urban pulls this off really well and I’d welcome him back with open arms if a sequel gets made.
One of the great things about this particular Dredd story is that it didn’t try to give us an Epic, it wasn’t an end of the world type scenario. They took a normal day, a normal routine check up and turned it into a movie. Ok, so the normal working day for Judge Dredd is most likely more eventful for him than us, but it worked. It was a great way to reboot the franchise on the big screen. Karl’s stoic performance leads well to some of the chuckle inducing one-liners he is given, which helps to add some welcome levity. It’s another good example of how script-writing and story writing can differ. A story can be incredibly basic but still succeed with a good screen writing, The Avengers is a case in point, and I believe Dredd is another.
With Dredd now fixed, I’m aching to see what the same team could do with a Dark Judges story arc. I think every Judge Dredd fan on the planet is just aching to see the Dark Judges on the big screen; especially Judge Death! This would be a wet dream come true for me! …Well, uhm, enough about my fantasies… Wonder Woman *cough*.
As usual, I don’t like to give too much away in my reviews, as it will spoil the movie, so I won’t ramble on-besides there isn’t much to the plot, it’s really just a staging ground for an endless run of violence Dredd style, and a reintroduction nay, a reminder to what Judge Dredd is……………..The Law!
Solid 8.5/10 from me.