2000 AD’s iconic character Judge Dredd has had a somewhat disappointing relationship with film adaptations. Sylvester Stallone‘s 1995 incarnation was roundly panned for straying too far from the source material, while there have been several aborted attempts to get a new project financed and made. Eventually a script penned by Alex Garland (The Beach, Sunshine and 28 Days Later…) was financed by DNA Films, IM Global and Reliance Entertainment. Simply called Dredd, it acts as a reboot of the 1995 film, featuring a more gritty and ‘near-future’ take on Mega-City One and the legendary Judge Dredd.
In the future, USA is almost entirely an irradiated wasteland with the exception of the giant Mega-City One, which houses over 800 million inhabitants. The Judges from the Hall of Justice are empowered to bring law and order to this violent dystopia, the most famed of which is Judge Dredd (Karl Urban). A rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) must undergo a training and evalutation by Dredd, which leads the two of them into a tower block called Peach Trees. It is controlled by a vicious and violent drug kingpin called Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) who realises that she is close to being caught so locks down the tower and orders everyone in it to kill the two Judges.
Dredd is a fast-paced, incredibly violent action film which draws inspiration from a host of films from the late 1980s, most notably Die Hard, from which Dredd’s central environment is based. Urban is excellent as the titular Judge Dredd bringing a growling Dirty Harry-esque charisma to the part, and fans will be pleased to know that he doesn’t remove his mask. Alongside him Thirlby is good as the underdog rookie psychic who Dredd must train and evaluate, while Headey channels her most evil moments from her time as Cersai Lannister in Game of Thrones.
Dredd‘s art direction is unusual, which may be down to its small budget (only $45m) but the Lawmaster bike looks unusually cheap and fragile compared with Stallone‘s version in Judge Dredd. Mega-City One is also not quite as depicted in the comic books, with it being simply a stretched version of a major city now. There is some attempt to impose tower blocks, but these are sparsely placed and give the impression that this version of Dredd’s world is near future rather than the aftermath of a future catastrophe. All this leads to a more realistic vision of the World rather than a fully-realised futuristic science fiction world, which will not suit all tastes. This disappointment is tempered by the excellent effects used and implemented during the scenes involving the drug Slo-Mo, which allows the film-makers to toy with some glittering slow motion scenes throughout.
If it had been released at any point in the last decade, it would’ve been hailed as a brutal homage to the greatest action film of all time, unfortunately 2012 was the year that The Raid was released. The supreme direction and high-impact nature of the Indonesian film could quite easily have put Dredd in the shadows of action films. Fortunately there is more than enough quality within for it to make its own impact and rarely for a film of this nature, it leaves you wanting to explore the world for a little bit longer. In the end Dredd is a hyper-violent, grimy take on a British comic book classic that manages to please fans of the series while providing the casual audience with a slickly presented action film. Here’s hoping it gets a sequel.