Dredd brings the cult comic hero to the big screen the way the character was meant to be – ultra-violent, with very little dialogue, and never removing his helmet.
Within the opening minutes of the film, Karl Urban completely owns the character and helps Judge Dredd fans forget that other guy who tried to bring the law to Mega-City One in 1995.
Based on the Judge Dredd character (created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra) from the British comic 2000 AD, the film was directed by Pete Travis (Vantage Point) with a screenplay by Alex Garland (28 Days Later). Dredd stars Urban, Olivia Thirlby, and Lena Headey (who sports several facial scars and has never looked nastier on screen).
Set in the future after the United States has become a burned-out wasteland known as the Cursed Earth, the people are slammed into giant cities, Dredd polices Mega-City One, with huge skyscrapers designed to house its more than 800 million residents.
Crime is at an all-time high and the government has created a new kind of police who are called Judges – since they handle the arrest, trial and punishment in an attempt to speed things up. The Judges have a no nonsense policy and it isn’t too difficult to get a sentence of death.
With the setting established, the audience is quickly introduced to Judge Dredd as he is gearing up to hit the streets. An opening action sequence shows the audience how deadly and efficient Dredd is and moves into the film’s actual plot.
Dredd has been assigned to evaluate rookie Judge Anderson – who has psychic abilities, but barely passed the academy. Dredd is told to decide if she can make it as a Judge, and he quickly informs her that this will be a pass or fail day based solely on her actions. Dredd isn’t a very forgiving guy and a simple mistake will cost Anderson her badge.
Over at the Peach Trees block brutal drug kingpin “Ma-Ma” (Lena Headey) is dealing with some personnel issues of her own. She uses the tower to manufacture her designer drug Slo-Mo (which causes the brain to perceive things as if they are in slow motion), but a couple of her runners have let her down.
She corrects the problem by dosing them with Slo-Mo and tossing them off the top floor of the tower. Her actions draw the attention of Dredd and Anderson – who take the call and arrive on scene to arrest/judge the killer.
Since the two Judges have stumbled into Ma-Ma’s tower and detained one of her top people, she puts the whole tower on lockdown and informs the residents that anyone who helps the Judges will be dealt with harshly.
Trapped inside the tower with no chance of reinforcement, Judge Dredd goes to work and the film goes into overdrive. The rest of the movie is basically an extended action sequence with Dredd and Anderson fighting for their life and also making their way to Ma-Ma’s lair so they can judge her for her many crimes.
Dredd is not a masterpiece, but it is the best the iconic character has ever been treated on screen. It is also one of the better action films to come out in a long time. The movie is unapologetically over-the-top and violent – which makes it that much more fun to watch.
Hidden behind the helmet with only his jawline visible, Urban (doing his best Clint Eastwood impersonation) owns the character and it is now impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. He manages to make the character engaging with a simple snarl or quiet threat. There is no real backstory or character development for Dredd, but who needs it.
The movie does have some problems. At first, the Slo-Mo scenes can be a tad annoying and strip the film of some of its gritty realism. Headey is great in the movie, but she never comes across as a real threat for Dredd – even with her grisly backstory.
Dredd is also a tad too invincible towards the end of the movie (where he is forced to take on a surprise threat from Ma-Ma that I don’t want to spoil in the review), but it is never enough to ruin the movie.
On Blu-ray, the film simply looks incredible and the format does an excellent job capturing all the grit and gristle spraying on the screen. The Blu-ray comes loaded with special features that take you into the film and how they were able to bring the characters to the screen.
There is an excellent look at Judge Dredd’s comic roots and the importance of the character. Any fan of Dredd will LOVE this feature, and those not familiar with the character should even consider watching it before they watch the film.
Simply put, Pete Travis and company got it right. Dredd has some problems, but it is also one hell of a good time. The movie kicks off with action and keeps the audience locked to the screen until the final bullet is fired.
Urban does an excellent job of erasing the performance of that other guy who tried to be the law, and shows how to bring an iconic character to the screen right.
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