I don’t fancy Karl Urban.

I mean, normally I fancy Karl Urban. On the special features bit of this DVD, it’s hard enough for me not to start licking the television screen, because normally Karl Urban looks like this

Karl Urban Pathfinder

but it’s testament to Karl Urban’s skill and humility as an actor that his screen-lickable sexiness is entirely forgotten when he spends the entire film with a grotesque scowl on the only part of his face visible beneath the trademark helmet. Which he never removes.

Sylvester Stallone removed the helmet when he played Judge Dredd, which is what was wrong with that film and what is right with this one. 

I’m getting most of this rhetoric second-hand, from my husband who is a giant Judge Dredd fan, and hated the Stallone movie about as much as I hated the second Harry Potter flick, which is to say about as much as absolutely everyone hated Alien: Resurrection. A betrayal of the franchise through betrayal of the characters. They wouldn’t do that, they wouldn’t say that, they wouldn’t wear that, they wouldn’t … ugh! Just NO!

So, Him Indoors, who is The Law on 2000 AD in our household decrees that Dredd would never remove his helmet, and any violation of this rule carries an immediate death sentence. Do you have any last requests, Sylvester?

Earning a full exoneration is Alex Garland’s Dredd, which fully comprehends the 2000 AD universe and has everyone doing, saying and wearing exactly what they’re supposed to. This is early Dredd, mind – not the dayglo realm of camp that Stallone sought to inhabit. This world is gritty and grim and everything is made of as much grey concrete as the film’s $45 million budget could muster.

It’s a bit of a shame on that one, because with more money this could have been a slicker affair. You might wonder how an A-list cast might tackle the roles – though Olivia Thirlby’s take on Judge Anderson is spot-on, so I’m told. More importantly, they could have paid for more effective publicity and a release date that didn’t dump it in the worst box office weekend of the year. Like those cult TV shows relegated to a 2am death slot, the poor timing of the theatrical release effectively murdered any chance of recouping its meagre budget. It took home just $36.4m internationally – much less than the $50m domestic gross required for a sequel, though perhaps strong DVD sales will make it possible.

Dredd does make its tiny resources count, though – from the elaborate Slo-Mo bullet-time bits to the endless splatters of blood and the fine casting of Lena Headey as the psychotic mob boss, Ma-Ma. Ma-Ma’s gang produce Slo-Mo, a drug that makes time appear to pass more slowly, in a 200-storey vertical ghetto known as Peach Trees. When Judge Dredd and rookie Judge Anderson go to Peach Trees to investigate a gang execution, Ma-Ma has the building sealed to prevent them taking a suspect into custody. The film then becomes a simple exercise in survival as the two cops attempt to shoot their way out with their suspect intact.

You might start to form the words Die Ha– at the sieged-building premise, but I was repeatedly reminded of sequences from Fallout 3 (from the slow-motion ultraviolence) and Mass Effect 2 (I kept expecting to run into “Archangel” at any moment). Even so, unlike practically every other violent film I’ve seen lately, it doesn’t feel like a video game. Film-wise, its closest relative would be Equilibrium.

The film might be called Dredd, but this is Judge Anderson’s film. She undergoes the Hero’s Journey, and Dredd is the Wise Old Man who coaches her through her transformation. Anderson is the heart, soul and conscience against the backdrop of Dredd’s mono-expression and occasional laconic quip. Anderson is beautiful, but neither love interest nor Woman In Peril. Basically, Dredd is Ripley teamed with Robocop.

Dredd hits its marks with pinpoint accuracy, evoking the likes of Escape From New York and They Live. Its strong female leads means it doesn’t overdose on testosterone, but it is uncompromisingly tough and quite gory to boot. The impact of some of those slow-motion scenes is inevitably lost without theatrical 3D, but Dredd is still as effective as an action film as it is a loving homage to the comic books.

Dredd‘s not the greatest film, even of its genre, but it is satisfying for fans and enjoyable for those unfamiliar with its world. Verdict: Dredd, you are free to go.



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