Normally remakes, reboots or reimaginings are met with derision and cynicism, whether it be too soon or just plain unnecessary, people like to complain about covering the same filmic ground again. However, Pete Travis’ Dredd, the latest adaptation of 2000AD’s iconic character, is in the privileged position of following in the footsteps of a terrible mid-90’s actioner starring Sly Stallone as the eponymous Judge and Rob Schneider as comic relief. Not a hard act to follow then…
Unfortunately for Travis, and screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days Later), this tale of law enforcement trapped in a deadly high-rise being hunted by psychos on every level bears an undeniable resemblance to this year’s frenetically paced Indonesian action film The Raid.
It’s a sad coincidence for Dredd which is a fun ride in its own right but doesn’t have quite the same impact as Gareth Edwards’ martial arts beat ’em up and somehow manages less story than even that film’s slender narrative.
After a very brief set-up, Mega City One’s toughest lawman Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) and psychic rookie Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) report to the Peach Trees district, a menacing tower block overrun by drugs and presided over by sadistic crime boss Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). After apprehending Ma-Ma’s right hand man (Wood Harris, The Wire’s Avon Barksdale), Ma-Ma locks down the whole building and orders 200-storeys worth of violent junkies to make sure the Judges don’t make it out alive.
Cue wall-to-wall carnage for the next 80 minutes as endless goons get blown to pieces by Dredd and his impressive arsenal, made all the more fun by an ingenious plot device in the form of Slo-Mo, the futuristic narcotic that slows down time for its users to 1% of normal time. This clever trick makes for some stunning sequences of oddly serene violence as glass flies, blood sprays and flesh splatters across the screen in super-slo-mo and extreme close-up, bringing a fresh feel to the gory violence.
As well as achieving a look and feel that echoes the source material – as well as some early Verhoeven films – Garland’s script is impressively faithful to the character of Dredd himself, aided by Karl Urban’s selfless performance. Free of the ego and superstar status that lead to Stallone’s Judge whipping his helmet off at any opportunity, Urban gamely gives over to the character, never showing any more than his mouth and chin but still exuding enough gruff, growly charisma to make the character a deadpan hero that stays just on the right side of parody.
With Dredd devoid of any real personality or emotion other than stone faced justice, it’s down to Thirlby’s Anderson to provide something to latch onto here as she has to prove her mettle in the most extreme of circumstances.
So while Dredd is a true adaptation of the source that should erase memories of the previous film incarnation, it never hits quite as hard as it could’ve done. Shot with a grungy cool and loaded with highly-stylised ultraviolence, its brief run time and gleeful violence keeps things from becoming dull but there isn’t enough plot or character to make a really memorable film. Still, Dredd is a welcome antidote to glossy Hollywood action flicks and provides a great reset for the series that hopefully makes enough money to warrant a sequel.