Dredd (2012)



Judge Dredd! Done properly! As a real brilliant movie! Mega City One! The scowl! The helmet!

For British nerds, 2000 AD comic holds a fond place in our hearts. It was just the best, full of brilliant sci-fi stories, with its one mainstay being Judge Dredd, designed as both an exciting story and a parody of fascism by creators John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra. The ultra-dystopian future has “Judges” – a mix of police officer, lawyer and judge, given the power to decide guilt and execute sentence on the spot. Mega City One, where nearly all the stories are set, has 800,000,000 inhabitants, most of whom live in giant city blocks; human beings aren’t buried or burned when they die, they’re recycled for every chemical; and generally, things are pretty bad for everyone.

But I could go on about the background for ever, there’s thirty-plus years of stories to go through. This movie very sensibly doesn’t give us too much of that, just a minor info-dump from Dredd (Karl Urban) as the camera pans across the city. Dredd is forced to take new recruit, super-powerful psychic Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) on a training day to see if she’s got what it takes to be a Judge. Picking a case basically at random, they end up in the Peach Trees block, where Ma Ma (Lena Headey) has built a drug empire with the new chemical Slo-Mo, which makes the brain perceive reality at 1% normal speed. Ma Ma manages to get the tower block’s blast doors shut so it’s just Dredd and Anderson against an entire building full of people who want to kill them.


People who watched “The Raid” will notice a similarity or two, but it’s nowhere near as bad as some of the more negative reviewers would have you believe. There’s the sci-fi trappings of the plot, for one thing, and then there’s Dredd himself. He is absolutely unwavering, there’s not a shred of compromise in him and his expression never ever changes. He is the law, and the way he dispenses it is brutal and fantastic, completely unlike the cops from “The Raid”.

I seriously can’t say enough positive things about this movie. It’s tense, clever, with tons of exciting set pieces – and it’s only 90 minutes long, meaning there’s not a second to get bored. Thirlby is superb as the psychic who initially seems ambivalent about being a Judge, Headey is brilliantly over the top as the villain, and Urban is surprisingly great considering you only ever see his mouth. Dredd’s helmet represents the facelessness of justice, but it must be tempting to show your star’s face at least once, so kudos for this one (unlike the awful 90s version with Sylvester Stallone) for not doing so. It also looks fantastic, with a really distinct visual style- the way they show people on Slo-Mo is a great idea, well executed, and the confines of Peach Trees look absolutely believably futuristic. There are plenty of little easter eggs for the comic fan too – I cheered when I saw the “Chopper” graffiti.

“Adult” action films seem to do poorly at the box office – aside from “300”, there’s not really been an unqualified success for a very long time – and sadly this was no different. On a budget of $50 million, it made $35 million, and even with a very vocal fanbase, with people organising days where everyone buys it on DVD to show a sequel could make money, it’s very unlikely to get another chance, at least with this incarnation of the character. There’s no excuse, either – the film is as good a translation of a comic character to the screen as there’s ever been, and it still failed. What could they have done better? Nothing, honestly, that would have made a difference. I wonder if showing people “this is what your future might turn out like unless you start making some tough decisions” contributed to it?


Go and buy this movie, because…you never know. Your £10 might be the money that pushes it over the line into profit and gets a producer on the phone to another producer; and, even if it doesn’t, you’ve got a fantastic film on your shelf.

Rating: thumbs up


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