Forget waiting 17 years to correct the wrongs of the ridiculous Sylvester Stallone movie version, Dredd is what fans of the original 1977 comic have been waiting 35 years for. Of course by now those fans are old enough to join AARP.
Taking his inspiration from not only the original story but also classics like Die Hard and Blade Runner, director Pete Travis made sure the one thing he didn’t draw from was 1995’s Judge Dredd. And we can all be thankful. Dredd is a bloody, dark, tense, and twisted bit of nightmare excellence.
Set in a far-off future, when most of the Earth has been laid bare by a nuclear apocalypse, Dredd takes us deep inside Mega-City One, a sprawling (from Boston to D.C.) monster-sized city, home to 800 million people and more crimes than can be cataloged daily.
It’s also home to a powerful new narcotic called Slo-Mo, which gives the user the sense that time is passing at 1% its normal speed. And high atop a 200-story high rise is Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), the former prostitute turned drug lord who runs this town.
Trying to keep the peace are the Judges, who have the powers of police, juries, and executioners all in one. The best of the best is Dredd (Karl Urban), who is in the process of training new recruit Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) when they’re called to investigate a triple homicide at Ma-Ma’s headquarters.
Shortly after they arrive, Dredd and Anderson not only find themselves trapped but being hunted by Ma-Ma’s entire army. Remember John McClane in Nakatomi Plaza? Dredd would kill to have it that easy.
Travis (Vantage Point) takes full advantage of the 3D, creating a visual crazyland, equal parts Nine Inch Nails music video and first-person shooter video game. The gore and violence come early and often (including graphic images of what happens when someone face plants after a fall from 200 stories up), but they’re done in such a stylistic and interesting way that it’s almost (dare I say) artsy.
The majority of the script by Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Never Let Me Go) is one bloody shootout after another, but there are also quite a few surprising moments that allow for actual character development. Kudos to Garland, too, for resisting the urge to make everything that comes out of Dredd’s mouth be a Schwarzenegger-ism; we’re spared silly punchlines. The only major issue is that the ending is a little quick and anti-climactic, but that’s a small price to pay when the rest of the film is such a high-octane thrill ride.
Urban plays Dredd as more RoboCop than human, but he nevertheless has enough charisma and gravitas to capably anchor such a big-bang-boom movie. And Thirlby’s transformation from green recruit to steely-eyed killer is sure to be one of the more underrated performances this fall.
It would be easy to write the movie off as one long, over-the-top, gritty shootout, but between Travis’ eye-blowing visuals and heaping amounts of tension, action, and even drama, Dredd kills.