Karl Urban makes a claim for the most hard-hitting, name-taking, no-forgiving ‘superhero’ cinema has ever seen.
I’m going to start off by saying that Dredd 3D is easily the surprise package of 2012, having entered the cinema with modest expectations only to come out with a new found love for a character that has been seriously under-appreciated on-screen. I had my reservations about the remake after Stallone and Co. lost the Judge all credibility in the 1995 version, but director Pete Travis has given the film an entirely different feel. It’s not meant to appease a wider audience, but rather a gritty, stylish and action-packed homage to the comic itself.
Set in the ruins of Mega City One, a post-apocalyptic metropolis where a serious crime is committed on average “16 times a minute”, police have been given the authority to be judge, jury and executioners. When the battle-hardened Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is teamed up with underperforming rookie, Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who has only been pushed through because of her mutated telepathic ability, the pair are sent to investigate a crime scene. The routine stop isn’t as it seems however, when they enter the high-rise tower block known as ‘Peach Trees’, a compound run by drug baroness ‘Ma-Ma’ (Lena Headey), a vicious criminal overlord who is responsible for the creation and distribution of the drug ‘slo-mo’, which tricks users into perceiving time at one per-cent its actual speed. After arresting Kay (Wood Harris), one of her main generals, Ma-Ma turns the tower-block into a prison locking everyone inside until the Judges are dead.
Those of you who are familiar with the world of cinema will notice the plot bears a striking resemblance to Gareth Evans’ 2011 action film ‘The Raid’, a film in which the protagonist must escape a compound overrun with criminals looking to kill him. The premise is simple and it’s thanks to Travis’ commitment to simplicity which makes Dredd such an engaging film. We aren’t bogged down by the archetypal superhero origin story that highlights every little detail, but rather one that moves with pace and conviction. It’s a film starring Judge Dredd that isn’t necessarily about him.
Urban has made Dredd his own, unshackling the dire scepticisms of previous outings to produce a character who stays true to the ethos of the comics; a man who is unrelenting in his quest for justice, having lost his faith in everything but the system. Gone are the cheap one-liners, the gold-plated suit and the annoying side-kick (the less said about Rob Schneider, the better), instead we have a character who is relentless in his quest for justice – the sci-fi version of Dirty Harry.
Set against a pulsing, scuzzy electronic soundtrack and mixed together with a bloodthirsty ensemble , you get the feeling that Dredd isn’t here to mess about. Put simply, Travis did more in the opening fifteen minutes with this film then 1996’s Judge Dredd did in its entirety. For once we can see the extent of what the Judge is capable of, taking down an entire gang almost single-handedly with brute force and THAT gun (one scene shows him decapitate an enemy by setting it to its maximum effect). I like the way that a lot of the film is shot from the perspective of a ‘slo-mo’ user, like in the car-chase at the start of the film and the several gun-fights within the tower. It gives the viewer time to immerse themselves into the scene.
I’m not a fan of 3D films and I never will be (IMAX will always reign supreme), yet Dredd has somehow managed to create a visual masterpiece that thrives in this environment, making the most out of the beautiful cinematography it has to offer. This is encapsulated in the ‘slo-mo’ sections which highlight the uniqueness to the darkly world that Pete Travis has created. The scene where Ma-Ma’s henchmen discover and torture three men who have been disobedient to the clan is testament to this, as she orders them to be skinned alive and thrown off the top of Peach Trees while high on the drug.
If there is one downfall to this film however, then it would be its lack of interesting adversaries. The majority of foes who Dredd and Anderson face are one-dimensional gang members; while Headley’s strung-out crime boss is creepy and murderous, she never really offers a serious threat to the Judge. Despite the awfulness of the original film, its antagonists did have more bite with the likes of ‘Mean Machine’, ‘Judge Rico’ and the dreaded (mind the pun) ABC robot. By no means is this a dig at the scar-faced Ma-Ma however, as the prostitute-cum-crime boss is quite the malevolent customer. One story explains that she received her disfigurement after a run-in her pimp, to which she took her revenge my chewing off his Old Chap before taking over the business. Not too shabby.
One of the best compliments I can offer for this film is that, unlike its predecessor, I actually want Dredd to spawn a sequel. If not for its gritty setting and lasting performances by Urban and Thirlby, then for the opportunity to see some of the characters’ more formidable foes, re-imagined in this visual dreamland. I believe Dredd is one of a number of comic-book films that have upped the ante since the gritty Dark Knight series by Christopher Nolan; directors have now realised the capabilities of the genre. Pete Travis has created a crossover that has instantly made the Judge cool again, while making a film that will be championed as one of the best comic-book flicks in years.