Starring: Karl Urban (Star Trek), Olivia Thrilby (Juno), Lena Heady (300)
Director: Pete Travis (Vantage Point)
Writer: Alex Garland (28 Days Later)
Runtime: 1 hour 35 minutes
Release Date: 7 September (UK), 21 September (US)
Judge Dredd is the poster boy for British comic book publisher 2000AD. While I have never read a Dredd comic myself, I am fairly familiar with the character and find him interesting. They then made a Hollywood movie version in 1995 starring Sylvester Stallone. It was sub-par. Not just because it changed several key aspects of the comic (such as Dredd’s failure to keep his helmet on throughout the movie), but because it ended up being an over-budgeted, under-written 90’s sci-fi actioner. You know you’re a 90’s movie when Rob Schneider of all people plays your sidekick. 17 years later, the Brits have taken their icon back and put matters into their own hands to create Dredd. Does it stand above its disappointing predecessor, or does it “BETRAY THE LAW!”?
The plot of Dredd is very simple and easy to follow, but story is hardly the film’s first priority. Many claimed after viewing the trailer that it was ripping off The Raid, but I’ll say for the record now that it has little to do with it other than the basic premise. Dredd is as similar to The Raid as The Hunger Games is similar to Battle Royale: enough to make the comparison, but so stylistically different that you soon forget. Instead, Dredd’s inspirations are clearly the sci-fi action movies of the 80’s. Several times throughout, there are clear similarities to films such as Robocop and Escape from New York. Dredd isn’t as clever as either of them, but it is just about as fun. The film has a tendency at the start to get bogged down in scenes full of exposition early on, but once the plot kicks into gear it all dissipates into blood and gunfire.
Sylvester Stallone’s portrayal of Judge Dredd was a performance that incited more laughter than fear. Karl Urban steps up to the role with a lot more stoic-ness and delivers a performance that is not only more menacing and bad-ass, but true to the source material (in answer to the fans: Yes, you never see his full face, and yes, he does get to say “I AM THE LAW!”). But on further examination, it becomes clear that Dredd himself isn’t the film’s main character. That falls more to the character of Judge Anderson (Olivia Thrilby). Not only does she serve as the audience avatar, she’s the film’s main emotional grab-on point. The filmmakers clearly know that Judge Dredd isn’t that sympathetic or relatable, and don’t try to make him a more standard hero like the Stallone version did. Luckily, Anderson isn’t a boring sidekick; she kicks about as much ass as Dredd does and even has a few witty one-liners. She’s also a psychic, which leads to some clever scenes between her and a perp they drag through most of the film. Lena Heady serves as the villainess and, while she is threatening and serves her role well, she doesn’t have enough screen time to be memorable.
But the main draw of a film like this is the action scenes, and Dredd delivers on that front. The action remains simple but fun, with some cool set pieces like when Dredd has to avoid a barrage of minigun fire. The film has sold itself on both the slow-mo (so much so that they incorporated it into the plot) and the 3D. The slow-mo scenes themselves are impressive, but don’t really advance too far after they’ve been introduced. At least they don’t spam it as much as some other films (Resident Evil: Afterlife anyone?). On the subject of 3D, it is mostly pointless; skip it if you have the choice. My main sticking point with the film is some of the CG, particularly the CG blood. How many times do I have to say it: CG blood looks terrible and is just plain laziness. It is even more obvious due to the slow motion. Please people, use practical blood if nothing else; it just pulls me out of the movie. Aside from this, the film is full of fun action, explosive sound and a kick-ass soundtrack.
In conclusion, Dredd is an awesome sci-fi action movie that should please both fans of the character and the genre. If you enjoy 80’s action movies, this is probably far more satisfying than watching The Expendables. While they don’t foreshadow it, I think it’s clear they want to make more of these. When they do, I’ll be queuing up for my ticket ASAP.
FINAL VERDICT: 8/10