Verdict: Two and a half stars out of five – brutal and gory, as befits its source material, and some outstanding visual effects, but it all begins to numb after a while. Still, a vast improvement over the lame Stallone version of 1995.
Judge Dredd, 2000 AD

Dredd didn’t want anyone to see his helmet hair ©Entertainment Film Distributors

It all begins with the rasping tones of Judge Dredd’s (Karl Urban) Batman-lite voice: “America is an irradiated wasteland.” As the camera pans over the vast expanse of Mega City, it is an apt introduction to the dense urban sprawl on steroids that is the future. It’s an unforgiving urban jungle, where violent death is an everyday occurrence, and policemen like Dredd serve as judge, jury and executioner. As a rival Judge exclaims: “It’s a f***ing meat grinder.”
Be warned: just like Mega City One, this movie is not for the faint of heart. It’s brutal, hardcore and relentless, with a level of ultraviolence that will make you flinch. “The sentence is death,” pronounces Dredd more than once, and he’s not saying it for fun – heads will explode and bodies will be thrown from height. The body count easily goes into double figures as he and rookie Judge and psychic Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) fight their way out of a seemingly impossible situation. I’ve only read a little bit of 2000 AD, the cult British magazine where Dredd was created, but the amount of blood that flows is certainly befitting of the source material.
Dredd, 2000AD

Dredd never did learn how to knock. ©Entertainment Film Distributors

Urban’s bestubbled chin and scowl do a fine job of looking grim and grouchy, with Thirlby’s soft, gentle features already visually marking her out as the innocent to Dredd’s battle-weary, almost emotionless, mentor.  It’s a brave move by Urban to take on a role where his eyes are never seen, and Dredd is certainly another plus for his leading man cachet, after roles in Lord of the Rings (2001), The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and RED (2010). On Thirlby’s part, she is more than convincing as the ingenue cop, and the pair strike up a nice chemistry. When asked why she isn’t wearing a helmet as they enter Peach Towers, Anderson replies that it might interfere with her telepathy. Dredd responds, deadpan: “A bullet might interfere with it too.”
“Chuck her in the deep end,” declares Dredd’s boss, and Anderson’s first day rapidly turns into a nightmare as an attempted bust leaves them stranded in Peach Trees, a 200-storey tower block controlled by drug dealers and their boss, the quietly chilling Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). Headey plays Ma-Ma as a sort of f***ed-up Cersei Lannister, but with 10 times less restraint, and 10 times more tattoos and scars.
Ma-Ma turns the denizens of Peach Trees on Dredd and Anderson almost by remote control, with a simple announcement over the PA system calling for their blood – and God help whoever gets in the way of her men. “Sit tight or run. Makes no difference. You’re mine,” she declares, her soft tones belying the cray cray that she brings to proceedings. Ma-Ma almost seems the poster child for her own product – Slo-Mo, a drug that slows time down for the user. The effects of the drug are beautifully rendered in CGI, which will be further enhanced by 3D.
Dredd, Lena Headey

The botox had gone horribly wrong ©Entertainment Film Distributors

So the stage is set for a battle royale, with pistols, rifles, Gatling guns, grenades and bombs. But despite the excellent cast, it all starts to feel like a video game after a while, especially with the heavy metal soundtrack. Dredd has been compared to Indonesian action movie The Raid, which also involves a gang of cops having to fight their way out of an apartment complex. I haven’t seen it, but I certainly hope its not as repetitious as Dredd. Even at 95 minutes, it feels overly long, and the audience is left waiting to move on from one action set-piece to another.
It’s all a vast improvement on the 1995 adaptation of the comic, where Sylvester Stallone played a Dredd more likely to inspire laughs than fear, but that’s really not saying much. Given its disappointing performance at the US box-office, prospects for a sequel to Dredd do not seem high either.
Have you seen Dredd? What did you think of it?