Title: DreddDirector: Pete Travis
Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Wood Harris, Domhnall Gleeson, Warrick Grier
Plot: In the future the United states has been turned into a irradiated wasteland known as the Cursed Earth, while on the east coast lies Mega-City One, a violent metropolis with a crime rate spiralling out of control. To restore order the Judges were introduced with the power to act as judge, jury and executioner. The most famed and feared of these judges is Dredd (Urban) who has now been tasted with evaluating potential judge Cassandra Anderson (Thirlby) who also is a powerful psychic. However Things take a turn for the worst when the judges find themselves trapped in the 200-storey slum tower block run by drug lord Ma-Ma (Headey), leaving them with no choice but to battle their way out, while being hunted by Ma-Ma’s legion of armed thugs who are now all hunting for the judges.
Review: Growing up in the UK we didn’t get a regular stream of DC / Marvel comics, more so if you lived out in the country like myself were the nearest comic book store like the nearest decent store to buy films was an hour train ride away. What we did have though was “2000 AD” a weekly comic whose pages were packed with colourful characters, exciting stories and most importantly lashings of violence that you’d never get in those other comics. While the comic itself has more recently been the subject of the documentary “Future Shock! Thee Story of 2000AD” it’s leading man Judge Dredd has already had one prior adaptation with the 95 Stallone movie "Judge Dread", which was largely (let alone unfairly) mauled by critics and fans alike. Needless to say the news of this latest attempt to adapt the long running series was met with almost universal scepticism.
Directed by Pete Travis who is probably best known for his UK TV work other than a sole feature credit for "Vantage Point" and a script written by Alex Garland, this latest adaptation has a distinctly British feel let alone one closer to the source material than its American counterpart. At the same time they wisely don’t attempt to adapt any of the major storylines or characters that would require prior knowledge of the series though Ma-Ma perfectly fits into this world. The downside though is that the plot is scarily similar to that of “The Raid”, which is more a case of coincidence rather any kind of sneak remake as only confirmed by the directors of both films.
Right from the start Travis perfectly sets up this dystopian vision of the future while providing the viewer with all the information to allow them to hit the ground running, which of course he does with Dredd engaging in a high speed pursuit with a trio of drug dealers, which ends true to the source material in bloody violence, here shown in voyeuristic slow motion. While perhaps a more sparse vision of the metropolis than fans of the series have come to expect the world inside the Peach Trees tower block is unquestionably more truer to the source material.
Karl Urban, an actor I can never place being in any film gets the honour of doning (and yes Dredd fans he doesn’t take it off) the iconic helmet as he plays the emotionless and by the book Judge in a great performance which truly brings to life the character while managing to avoid any traces of humanity or emotion which is no easy feat especially when placed in a situation which would in normal people see them making decisions based on their emotions. At the same time though Judge Anderson covers for a lot of these moments, as here she is far from the veteran judge of the comics and instead introduced as a rookie, hinting that perhaps in the sequels we would get to see her develop her skills as a judge. Sequels which at the time of writing still remain in development hell sadly, especially when this film sets up so much potential to build upon this world especially with the plans being for a trilogy of films in a similar vein to how Nolan crafted his batverse.
The real standout here though is Lena Headey playing with obvious relish the role of Ma-Ma, a psychotic and heavily scared creation who is very much sitting comfortably at the top of the pile, largely thanks to having having butchered her competition in order to claim the block for herself, which she has turned into her own personal fortress, while she solely controls the production of the highly addictive drug Slo-Mo which reduces the user’s perception time to 1% of normal and which generally seems to have been included so that Travis can get away with gratuitous use of slow motion footage, which make for some of the worst moments of the film, while not being helped by the cheap looking CGI which has been used to enhance these sequences.
The main issues I had though with the film other than the worrying similarities to “The Raid” which left me with the feeling that I was watching a film I’d already seen before, while at the same time it lacks pacing with so that it often feels like a number of impressive set pieces largely strung together under the pretence of climbing floors in the tower block as the judges head ever closer to the inevitable confrontation with Ma-Ma. This being said the action sequences make this film worth giving it a watch alone, with enough blood and gore to keep things interesting with exploding limbs being torn off in frenzied firefights let alone with Ma-Ma’s personal love of skinning those who displease her before tossing them over the balcony in one of the early standout moments.
While this might be a slightly more truer adaptation of the source material than 1995’s “Judge Dredd” it not without its issues with the stop start pacing really stopping me from liking it more along with the excessive use of slow motion footage which has none of the style that Zack Snyder brings with his use of the same technique. This of course is only made the more frustrating when so many aspects such as the character design and casting work so well. For now though this might be the truest vision of the world of “Judge Dredd” and I can only hope that Urban is still able to don the helmet once more when the studios finally decide the future of the franchise.