Film and TV Editor Kellie Morrissey welcomes back the newest incarnation of the Judge.
Comparisons to the 1995 Sly Stallone version are trite and irrelevant – Dredd impresses and does so without the need for a two-and-a-half hour long plot whose third act consists of crashing skyscrapers and big explosions. It does so without the need for a wisecracking sidekick, a beautiful-but-useless love interest and a stirring theme tune. It does so without Dredd even taking off his helmet. This is action as it should be – dirty and ultraviolent as hell.
Its plot is as tight and lean as it could be – the setting is the US sometime in the future (Dredd’s gritty voiceover informs us that the country is now an “irradiated wasteland”). The country is divided into vast metropolises: here we find ourselves in Mega-City One, home of 800 million residents and rife with violent crime and drug use. One drug that is particular widespread is Slo-Mo: a liquid which, when inhaled, slows time down to a fraction of its real speed for the user. Judges Dredd (Karl Urban) and rookie psychic Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) respond to a crisis call at the 200 storey slum tower block, Peach Trees, where Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), an ex-prostitute turned gang leader and Slo-Mo distributor, holds sway.
I must admit, I was awaiting this movie with, uh, dread. As comic book adaptations go (and this year has been a good one for them), Judge Dredd and 2000AD never seemed to be adaptable without running into a host of issues. One is Dredd himself – not a hero, not a villain, not an antihero – just there. His is no great character arc, nothing changes for him: he has no real friends, no love interests – no interests in general – and is so single-minded in his pursuit of what is lawful that he often sacrifices innocents to catch perps. His is a great character (or lack thereof) and Urban inhabits this void uncannily well – although he does abandon the robotic, Batman-esque growl occasionally for a pithy quip or a cheesy action-movie line that here allows us to revel in the satire of it all before getting back to flinching at all the (marvellously executed) blood and gore.
Thirlby, too, is impressive as the borderline-failing rookie Judge Anderson, for whom this drug bust-gone-bad is an assessment which will have Dredd hand her a pass or a fail at the end of the day. Without her, the movie wouldn’t be much – with Dredd as empty as he is, Anderson is therefore the emotional centre of the film and Thirlby pulls it off wonderfully. Her arc is one we can follow. Lena Headey as Ma-Ma is also very good – her shorn hair, scarred face and dead eyes are all somehow very scary, and if anything the film could have done with more of her.
Of course, it’s rated 18s for a reason – I have rarely seen a film as violent as this. The scenes that make use of slow motion effects (from Slo-Mo users’ perspective) are particularly memorable (and nauseating) – bullets rip through cheeks, limbs, eyes, shredding flesh as they go. A trachea is destroyed in a particularly memorable way, skinned bodies hit the floor with sickening thuds, and you’d better believe we see all the trimmings. There’s a strange beauty to the violence, however – comic book readers will recognise such gore from the panels of some particularly darker series, and combined with the slow motion effects, the gore is forgivable – nay, justifiable.
Overall, it’s an excellent movie; so lean and so tight-plotted that it barely outruns the traditional 90 minutes. This is no bloated Watchmen or 300, no cheesy Captain America, no melodramatic Batman. This is stripped-down, focused, pure entertainment. With a lot of blood.