Action, 95 Minutes, 2013:
The original attempt at capturing “Britain’s Number One Comic Hero”, 1995’s “Judge Dredd” [IMDB] was, let’s be honest, not a terrible movie. It was a bit ham-fisted and trite but also had a decent story, some great design work and lots of action. It was not, however, a good Judge Dredd movie. It tried, lord knows it tried. In the final judgement (get it?!) it just didn’t capture the character very well. While some fans considered the removal of the character’s helmet pure sacrilege the issues went deeper than that. The movie ended up too light, to uneven and just plain too Hollywood.
So when news of a new movie started leaking out most fans were reasonably skeptical. The film’s poor box-office performance would seem to support that attitude. As is often the case, unfortunately, box office is no predictor of quality: this is a damn good movie.
Karl Urban [IMDB], an incredibly talented but often underrated genre actor, takes on the lead role. There’s a clear affinity and respect for the character that’s often lacking in Hollywood adaptations. While the film does take some liberties with the source material, they’re reasonable and defensible. Fans will be happy to hear that Urban’s ego survives the entire film without ever showing his face. Acting solely with your lower lip is definitely a challenge, but Urban pulls it off.
The scope of the film is highly constrained but still conveys the expansive, overwhelming oppressiveness of the the enormous, crime-riddled Megacity One. Dredd, putting a troubled but powerfully psychic rookie through her final assessment, responds to a multiple murder at one of the many kilometer-tall tower blocks. The block, a crime-riddled slum, is actually in the control of a a psychotic drug-lord. When the judges threaten to expose her operation she locks the building down to deal with them.
The movie has to be compared, favorably, to the amazing Indonesian action blockbuster, “The Raid” [Our Review]. By limiting the action to a single, albeit enormous, location and goal – to stay alive – much more time can be spent with the characters. While Dredd is characteristically taciturn, his young partner, Anderson (Olivia Thirlby [IMDB]), provides an interesting counterpoint and allows us to learn a great about Dredd via his reactions. The dynamic between the two is excellent and deftly executed.
In a similar way our villain, Ma-Ma (Lena Headey [IMDB]), is a perfect reflection of her world. In the same way that Dredd and Anderson’s interactions expose the film’s characterization of justice and morality, Ma-Ma and her environment interact to show us its view of brutality and vengeance. In her we see the effect of the cruelty and neglect that run rampant in Megacity One. Headey may seem like an odd choice for the role but she acquits herself very well.
Of course if the psychological implications of the story bore you can always just sit back and enjoy the many perfectly executed action sequences. Dredd’s signature multi-function sidearm, The Lawgiver, is present and represented well. The imbalance in power throughout most of the film, two judges with limited ammunition against dozens of thugs armed to the teeth, is well-managed and provides a tension lacking from many action movies.
Even if you’re not a fan of the character, this a fun, excellently-paced action movie. If you are a fan, and the type of true fan that can accept some minor changes, then you’ll likely find a lot to love here. Finally, there’s a good Judge Dredd movie!