All of the signs were good for Dredd. A script by Alex Garland, Karl Urban in the titular role and acknowledgment by many people that they wouldn’t be repeating the mistakes of the Stallone movie (translation – the helmet would be staying ON this time). Director Pete Travis seemed to know what the fans wanted and expressed that everyone was on the same page, Dredd would be a tough action movie that wouldn’t be cut down or sanitised for a wider audience demographic. A lot of goodwill was snowballing in advance of the movie being released. Reviews started to appear and they were pretty positive. The movie opened and, well, it would appear that the fanbase isn’t quite as numerous or rolling in disposable income as the studio had hoped. According to Box Office Mojo, the film grossed just over $32 Million worldwide (details are here), quite a bit short of the estimated $50 Million budget it cost to make. Why didn’t it do the kind of business that would have guaranteed a sequel? Well, I think that it’s very hard to do a GREAT Judge Dredd movie (which this is) that also stands up as a GREAT movie (which this isn’t, though it’s very good) so, to many people, this may have just been some action movie in which some guy never takes off the helmet covering his face. The character is a helmeted, Fascist dispenser of justice with little to no sense of humour so, for those unfamiliar with him, he’s not exactly an easy sell to mainstream cinema audiences.
Anyway, after spending too much time considering the box office performance, let’s get to the review of the movie itself.
The premise is pretty simple. Judge Dredd (Urban) is given a rookie (Anderson, played by Olivia Thirlby) to take out for the day and evaluate in the field. The two of them go along to a triple homicide at a 200-storey tower block known as Peach Trees and track down the perp they think is responsible (Wood Harris). Little do they know, the tower block is controlled by the vicious Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), a woman also responsible for getting a drug named Slo-Mo manufactured and onto the streets. Slo-Mo, in case the name didn’t make it obvious, is a drug that both provides a great high and also makes time feel as if it is running at only 1% of its normal speed. Ma-Ma doesn’t want anyone who might talk about her operation leaving the block and what Ma-Ma wants, Ma-Ma usually gets. Dredd and Anderson soon find themselves trapped with 200 storeys of people who either want them off their floor or dead.
A lot of reviews have mentioned the similarity between this and The Raid so I thought I’d better repeat what many others have already said. However, that’s all they are – similarities. Both films happened to come out at the same time and have similar settings. Neither one “ripped off” the other, as far as I’m aware, so just enjoy the fact that an excellent premise has been used twice to such great effect and let’s hear no more about it.
Everything about Dredd is, in many ways, spot on. The direction from Pete Travis is solid and in between the many great action moments he provides plenty of visual pizzazz by showing the events through the eyes of people enjoying their Slo-Mo. The script by Alex Garland makes, and keeps, Dredd a suitably gruff man of few words. He’s both humourless and merciless and that’s set in stone from start to finish (with one, very minor, exception). Urban is excellent in the role, despite (or maybe because of) the fact that most of his performance is delivered by his jawline and the way he carries himself. Thirlby is very good as Anderson, who lacks practical experience, but proves to be a quick learner, and also very handy thanks to her mutation – a strong psychic ability. Lena Headey is great fun as the ruthless Ma-Ma, who rules by fear and respect, and Wood Harris is fine as Kay AKA the perp whose apprehension leads to all of the trouble. Rakie Ayola is good in her small role, as are Warrick Grier and Domhnall Gleeson. Eagle-eyed fans of Evan Rachel Wood won’t want to blink or they may miss her ever-so-brief turn as a control operator.
Dredd is very good action entertainment with plenty of impressive carnage and bloodshed throughout and one or two decent twists and turns in the lean plot. It won’t please everyone, but that’s not what it aims to do. It aims to please Judge Dredd fans. In that respect, it’s a success (even if it’s still lacking the bite and ironic humour of the source material) and I will be joining the many others who already hope that the film can somehow rake in so much money on DVD and Blu-ray that it will still allow the proposed sequels to be greenlit further down the line. It’s very doubtful, I know, but I live in hope.
DIRECTOR: PETE TRAVIS
WRITER: ALEX GARLAND (BASED ON CHARACTERS CREATED BY JOHN WAGNER AND CARLOS EZQUERRA)
STARS: KARL URBAN, OLIVIA THIRLBY, RAKIE AYOLA, LENA HEADEY, WOOD HARRIS, WARRICK GRIER, DOMHNALL GLEESON, EVAN RACHEL WOOD
RUNTIME: 95 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: UK, USA, INDIA