Whilst it does have its fans, you will be hard pressed to find anyone showering praise on the 1995 big-screen outing for iconic 2000AD comic book character, Judge Dredd, starring Sylvester Stallone. He takes his helmet off, for goodness sake! Dredd doesn’t take his helmet off! That movie was a big-budget Hollywood affair, but the cheaper Dredd, released in 2012 and sadly flying under the radar of many moviegoers, was a much more gritty affair.
Written by (and also reportedly ghost directed by) Alex Garland (The Beach, Annihilation, Ex Machina), Dredd stars Karl Urban as the permanently helmeted titular character tasked with delivering swift violent justice as judge, jury, and executioner in the dystopian crime saturated world of Mega-City One.
Although written over the course of many years, the movie features a similar plot to superb Indonesian movie The Raid released the year before: a crime lord is sitting pretty at the top of a skyscraper and our leads must fight their way from the bottom up in order to confront them.
Dredd triumphs over the 90s effort in every conceivable way. Instead of getting bogged down in origin stories or excessive world building, the movie is essentially ‘a day in the life of Judge Dredd’. His gruff severe nature is countered by rookie Judge, Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), with whom he has been reluctantly partnered and tasked with assessing her suitability for graduation. Their mission is to investigate three murders within Peach Trees, a 200 storey slum building, leading them to battle to bring down drug lord ‘Ma-Ma’ (Lena Headey) whose designer drug ‘Slo-Mo’ makes users experience time at 1% of normal speed.
Such a set up requires minimal characters which suits the movie well. Urban and Thirlby are an excellent combination and she humanises Dredd by proxy, allowing the smallest of character arcs in a character not known for progressing at any visible speed. Similarly, Anderson has the ‘rookie thrown in at the deep end arc’, paired with the fact she possesses psychic abilities that allow her to experience the emotions of those around her. Headey is suitably nasty but with a pinch of world weariness that gives her Ma-Ma villain a little something extra sweet.
Again with The Raid as a reference point, Dredd has a great combination of violence and action throughout. Even with the setting ‘limited’ to one (albeit massive) building, there is room for motorbike chases, gun battles, and brawling fights. The choreography of the movie not only ensures that each fight is suitably meaty, but the futurism is expressed with undeniably cool effect work. Dredd’s signature gun (the ‘Lawgiver) is a multi-functional piece of weaponry, and the way the camera slooooows to a crawl when we see someone under the influence of the Slo-Mo drug is just gorgeous.
Dredd really has a lot going for it. It was criminally overlooked on release but has built a cult following on home media formats. Karl Urban acts his jaw off throughout one of the most satisfyingly contained and yet sprawling action movies you will see. The only question is: are you ready to administer justice?
Words by Mike Record