“Judgement is coming” declares the marketing materials for Dredd, yet given the film’s status as the second adaptation of the titular law enforcement officer, many had already formed their opinion. On paper, the case was convincing; the first feature–Sylvester Stallone vehicle Judge Dredd–was universally panned, new lead Karl Urban was less than successful in his last marquee outing (2005’s Doom), and reports of disharmony emanated from the set during production. Yet, despite the lacklustre expectations cast its way, the new version exceeds any pre-conceived notions. Instead, it proves that such meagre estimations were far from warranted, in a slick, stylish and surprisingly taut action sci-fi effort.
Based on the comic strip character in British anthology 2000 AD, Dredd is a man of deeds not dialogue, dispensing justice in the future wasteland of Mega-City One. His duties encompass those of police, judge, jury and executioner, keeping 800 million residents in order. To his chagrin, he is asked to assess a low-performing rookie–Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby, The Darkest Hour)–retained in the role for her psychic powers. In their first job together, a triple homicide call turns into a battle for survival in one of the city’s worst slum blocks, as they become ensconced in the drug-dealing turf war of former prostitute Ma-Ma (Lena Headey, TV’s Game of Thrones) and her enforcer Kay (Wood Harris, best known for The Wire).
Though the dystopian setting informs Alex Garland’s (Never Let Me Go) iteration of Carlos Ezquerra and John Wagner’s protagonist, just as it furnishes the “day in the life” narrative than unfolds, Pete Travis’ (Endgame) film doesn’t dwell on the details. Instead, after an expository opening voiceover, it thrusts the audience into the action as the duo of judges endeavour to end Ma-Ma’s reign over the 200-storey apartment tower. In doing so, the feature bears more than a passing resemblance to recent release The Raid, however this is no mere imitation. Even with its evident story and aesthetic similarities – dark and dirty staging included – the single-setting cascade of violence is inventive, ambitious and immersive.
In the process, the memory of the 1995 offering is almost instantly erased, with the always-helmeted Urban a brutal – and never comical – hero. Embracing Dredd’s unflinching ferocity, he remains commanding as well as charismatic, suitably contrasting with Thirlby’s empathetic presence. Yet, their impressive combination – and the effective efforts of Headey, Wood and Domhnall Gleeson (Shadow Dancer) in support – come second to cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (127 Hours) and special effect supervisor Max Poolman’s (District 9) striking 3D visuals. With sophisticated on-screen savagery that belies its simple plot, Dredd may be B-movie material, but it proves the antithesis of any ready-made opinions about the aggressive, involving franchise.
Dredd was released in Australia on October 25th.
Director: Pete Travis
Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Wood Harris, Domhnall Gleeson