Note: Dredd is offered in a 3D version as well. As I feel that format (1) actually makes things look worse and (2) solely exists to charge $4 more for the very same film, I watched this in the clearer, brighter, and less expensive 2D.
Dredd is a character featured in British science-fiction oriented 2000 AD comics. He has made it to the big screen once before in a 1995 movie starring Sylvester Stallone. Based on that less than successful adaptation, my expectations weren’t particularly high for this. What a nice surprise that this is an entertaining improvement. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not going to win any storytelling awards. The whole thing plays out like an amalgamation of RoboCop Meets The Raid with a little Mad Max thrown in for good measure. But if you’re looking for a potent summer action flick (foolishly released in the fall) this should fit the bill.
In the future, the United States has become an ever expanding wasteland. People live in housing blocks that have become slums blighted by crime. The Judges are a new type of law enforcement that serve as judge, jury and executioner all in one. Judge Dredd is our hero and Judge Cassandra Anderson is his fledgling sidekick with psychic abilities. Hooligans driving recklessly down the street lead the pair to the Peach Trees housing block. The 200-story slum tower is run by a murderous drug lord called Ma-Ma. She is the sole supplier of Slo-Mo, an addictive new narcotic that hinders the user’s sense of time. Now Dredd and Anderson must infiltrate her drug den and take down Ma-Ma and her ruthless network of thugs within the building.
Dredd is an eye-popping combat film that is a violent pulp tale of mayhem. Actor Karl Urban strikes just the right balance as our lead. He’s all business as a no-nonsense superhero that gets the job done without ever cracking wise. He’s a poker-faced protector that never shows his face. Ok granted we do see his chin at least protruding from a helmet that covers his head. Actress Lena Headey as Ma-Ma is a bit harder to accept. She reads more like the grande dame on a prime time soap opera than the criminal kingpin she portrays here. Thankfully Olivia Thirlby gives us a reason to care in the engaging emotional arc her rookie Judge must undergo. The script conveniently involves a mind altering substance, called Slo-Mo, which gives the director free reign to slow down action sequences whenever the users are hyped up on the product. It effectively slows perception down and renders everything as if the air has been bedazzled with sparkles. Their production design of the future oddly gave me nostalgia for the late 80s sci-fi TV series Max Headroom. Some scenes almost looks as if they’ve been artificially colorized. The effects are kind of cheap, but if you’re a fan of shoot–’em–ups you’ll get your money’s worth. The violence supports an oppressively dreary tone. Its R rating is well deserved, but it’s highly stylized and artificial as befitting its comic book roots. Yes, we’ve seen this all before, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it I guess.