Doing a fine job of erasing the nasty taste of the Stallone stinker, this is a solid sci-fi actioner which remains faithful to the spirit of the 2000 AD comic character – at least the early ones, which I read from issue 1 when they first came out and for a good couple of years after.
For anyone unaware of the comics (and I’d not suggest anyone take the previous film version as a primer), Dredd’s world is a post-apocalyptic one, in which the majority of the earth is a radioactive wasteland with humanity restricted to a few, vast, “Megacities”. Megacity 1, the scene of these stories, centres around New York and is vast, a world to itself. These cities rely for order on the Judges, fascistic policemen who not only enforce the law but also decide sentence and dispense punishment, on the spot, and this tends towards the fierce and severe, with capital punishment frequently used. All this is given in a voice-over primer in the first couple of minutes of the film, a bit clumsy perhaps but it does allow us to get pretty much straight into the action.
Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is not the most senior in nominal authority, and is a character simple in nature but complex in storytelling, neither clearly hero nor antihero but an ambivalent figure. He is rigidly authoritarian, with almost no flexibility whatsoever in his dispensation of summary “justice” and has even less sympathy for “perps”. He is a totally impersonal figure with almost no personality (a famed cock-up of the Stallone version was that he took the helmet off, letting us see his face, something that the comics, and this version, never allowed). Yet this approach to lawmaking is shown to be required in a future dystopia on the very edge of a collapse into total anarchy and destruction, and Dredd is, far and away, the most successful of all the Judges, inspiring awe and fear in colleagues and opponents alike. When the Chief Judge has a new rookie, Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who needs testing, she turns to Dredd to instruct and test her because Anderson is special. Normally not sufficiently high-scoring to qualify for Judge training, Anderson has psi powers and the Chief Judge wants to see if Anderson’s gift can be utilised effectively.
On their first outing, they visit the sweetly-named “Peach Trees”, a hellish urban ghetto tower block, run by ex-prostitute and now drug-lord gang leader Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) who has just dispensed some “justice” of her own, skinning malefactors before flinging them from on high, having first given them the drug she controls, “slo-mo”, to give them a lifetime of torture and fear before they hit the ground. As Dredd and Anderson investigate, they find themselves isolated and at war with Ma-Ma’s drug gangs.
The fictional drug, which slows down perception (though not necessarily reaction) allows some wonderfull slow-motion 3D effects – this is by far the most effective use of 3D I’ve seen so far, with a dreamy, hypnotic, almost psychadelic mood produced, even on the most violent and disturbing scenes. And it is very violent. For most of the film, you’d not be surprised to see it rated as suitable for children (with supervision). Yet, at intervals, the violence is extreme and very graphic, which seems odd – I’m not sure the filmmakers have done themselves a favour with this. You’d think they’d at least want to bring in the 15 year olds.
Still, a very creditable stab at recreating the comic feel, creating a world both brighter and grubbier than I imagined and I’d be both surprised and disappointed if there were not a sequel, if not a series, preferably with a higher budget and wider scope. A trek into the Cursed Earth, perhaps?