In Cinemas Now
A second cinematic instalment for 2000 AD’s favourite son.
When it was announced back in the 1990s that Judge Dredd was to hit the big screen, fans of the comic strip – myself included – were understandably excited. And when a major Hollywood name in the form of Sylvester Stallone signed up, there was even more cause for celebration. Could he do for Dredd what he’d done with Rocky and Rambo, putting the name on the map at last? Sadly, thanks to the mish-mash of a movie that ensued – stitching together bits of Dredd’s universe like it was a patchwork quilt (the Angel gang get how long on screen… a few minutes?) – he and director Danny Cannon made sure the character was known for all the wrong reasons. It’s taken seventeen years plus a scriptwriter and star with a handle on Dredd’s world to finally see him back again. But was it worth the wait…?
In a dystopian Mega City One, built on the remains of the old world, criminals flourish and an increasingly dissatisfied population rail against the system. The only thing holding it all together? The men and women of the Hall of Justice: the Judges, in other worlds. And they don’t come any tougher or meaner than Dredd (Star Trek’s Karl Urban who, adhering to Dredd lore, never once shows his helmeted face). He ably demonstrates this in the first ten minutes, chasing after a gang in a van who are hopped up on the latest drug to hit town: SLO-MO (which gives the user the impression that time is passing extremely slowly… and offers a great excuse to experiment with the 3D filmmaking).
No sooner has he dealt with this problem than he’s given another, the task of assessing rookie Judge Cassandra Anderson (The Darkest Hour’s Olivia Thirlby), a mutant with telepathic abilities that might be of use to the street Judges. Letting her pick the next assignment, they respond to a multiple homicide – three men having been skinned alive and thrown from the top of Peach Tree block. Arresting the culprit (Wood Harris, aka Avon Barksdale from TV’s The Wire) they soon discover they have in their possession the one man who could bring down scarred psychopathic gang boss Ma-Ma (Game of Throne’s Lena Headey), who is responsible for the production of SLO-MO. She promptly locks down the entire block and tells the residents that no-one will get in or out until Dredd and Anderson are killed. Will even Dredd be able to make it through this one, especially with an inexperienced officer to wet nurse…?
There’s a reason this movie is currently number one at the UK box office, and that Judge Dredd co-creator John Wagner gave it a thumbs up. Screenwriter Alex Garland (he of The Beach) has recognised that you don’t need all the gimmicks to make Dredd work. Gone are the enormous shoulder pads and boots, replaced by a more workmanlike uniform – Dredd’s helmet is suitably battle-scarred, and his Lawgiver gun doesn’t have a never-ending supply of bullets. But Garland also knows that at his core, Dredd’s a cop – okay, he’s a fascist cop, but then the bad guys happen to be a much, much worse prospect. And when he’s put in a situation like this one, Dredd does what he does best: comes out fighting. Not only that, he’s operating in a future that is both believable and frighteningly credible; in fact it could only be a few years away.
Urban – channelling Eastwood’s Dirty Harry – has done his homework as well, studying the character’s mannerisms from the comics, which he copies to a tee. The one word answers (“Interesting”), sarcastic humour (when Anderson tells him her helmet interferes with her psychic abilities, Dredd replies: “A bullet would interfere with them more”) and jutting chin are all present and correct. As is the extremely violent action, making this a Robocop of its time. There’s certainly a good reason this is an 18.
Thirlby gives excellent support, too, as Anderson – a little younger than in the comics, perhaps, but that only gives scope for more development in future films (pray that we get them). Plus Headey is on fine form as the villain of the piece, a wronged prostitute who rules through fear and kills anyone who gets in her way, friend or foe.
Finally, the plot is tight yet full of surprises; it reminded me a little of the original Assault on Precinct 13, which can only be a good thing. A perfect action movie, but with brains to match. Garland has talked about this becoming a trilogy of movies, if the first one does well enough: à la the Dark Knight films. I, for one, am hoping – like Dredd himself – that this franchise goes the distance.
Dredd as it should have been done in the first place. He is the law! 10/10