Wednesday, 3 October 2012


In the future, the United States is an irradiated waste land. Lying on the east coast is Mega City One, an enclosed metropolis housing 800 million people. With 17,000 crimes reported daily, the law is enforced by Judges, who act as judge, jury, and often executioner as well. Veteran Judge Dredd is tasked with evaluating the rookie Judge Anderson, a psychic who's failed her judge tests. As they investigate the death of three men who were drugged, skinned alive and thrown from the top of a 200-storey slum tower, they encounter the Ma-Ma clan, who run the building and are creating and pushing a new drug, Slo-Mo, which slows the users perception of time to 1% of normal. They arrest a man responsible for the murders, but before they can leave Peach Trees tower, Ma-Ma herself seizes control of the tower security system and shits the blast doors, sealing everyone inside, and tasking her clan to kill the judges...

Judge Dredd is one of those tricky franchises where fans get very particular about how their hero gets interpreted. Not to say that every other comic/graphic novel adaptations doesn't have the same kind of fans, but Dredd fans get extremely vocal about their disdain for aspects of story lines and interpretations if they don't like it or they don't think it fits the canon. The first Judge Dredd adaptation (1995) was met poorly by critics and fans alike (he took his helmet off!) and news of another film version was initially met with scepticism. However, released images and test footage proved popular, and the promise of Dredd keeping his helmet on was more than enough to keep fans satisfied until they saw the final product... If I were a Judge Dredd fan, I know I'd be happy with this. In fact, I'd be delighted.

I've read enough comic books and graphic novels to know what I'm talking about with most things, but I've never read a single issue of 2000 AD, never read a single Dredd strip or book, never even seen the 1995 version, so I came into this with an open mind, only hearing good things about the character and quiet early buzz about how good this film was. Upon seeing it, I can safely say I enjoyed it greatly. The plot was simple and easily introduced non-fans into the Dredd universe, established the character of Judge Dredd quickly and efficiently, the pace was consistent and the film looked great as well. When I say it looked great, there were times where you could see the film was slightly lower budget than a mainstream blockbuster, but that didn't stop the sets looking fantastic and the visual effects looking stunning. In particular, the parts of the film showing users under the influence of Slo-Mo were beautiful, thank god for high-definition, high frame-rate cameras.

The acting was a bit hammy at times, but I think 70% of that can be put down to the (at times) terrible dialogue. Other than that, Karl Urban's chin did a fantastic job of staying in a fixed clench/snarl throughout the film and still gave more reactions than Kristen Stewart on a good day. Olivia Thirlby seemed a bit overwhelmed by her role at times and couldn't deliver a consistent performance which was a shame. However, major props need to go to Lena Headey as Ma-Ma, she is a total bad ass in this! Scars on her face, missing teeth, bad hair... The film takes away Headey's natural good looks and forces her to deliver a convincing performance as the ruthless gang leader and she more than does so, I dare say she's probably the best thing about this film, especially when she's been surrounded by a gang who deliver god-awful performances with over-acting and poor line delivery across the board. Woof. That's probably half the reason Headey stands out as being so good, she's a life raft amidst a sea of atrocious performances.

The violence in the film was impressively graphic too. I liked how they didn't shy away from showing someone being obliterated from a 200-storey fall or having half their face torn off by a Dredd special. It all looked great, and fit the aesthetic of the film perfectly. That said, it's kind of a shame that the film's in 3D (again, ruiner of all good things) because 95% of the film takes place in a sealed tower block with no natural light, which means everything's going to be dark, which means it gets darker still behind the 3D glasses. The Slo-Mo scenes looked epic in 3D, but that's because the colour in those scenes is super-saturated and is designed to look great despite the two black lenses covering the viewers eyes. Other than a couple of other select scenes (don't worry, no spoilers, at least no MORE spoilers), the 3D seems like a waste of time, just like it does in every other film I've ever seen in 3D.

Overall, this is an entertaining film that never gets complicated and never outstays its welcome, getting you out of the cinema after an entertaining hour and a half. It comes with a laundry list of faults, but Dredd is what it is, simply a good old fashioned violent action film with a good guy and a bad guy (or girl). It's not "so bad it's good", but it's not a phenomenal film either; it sits nicely in the middle, not promising anything and delivering nothing special but enough to warrant a viewing. The acting's all over the place, but Urban and Headey have enough to carry it through. The best thing about this film are the special effects though. If you're not seeing this in the cinema, please don't watch some crappy download copy. Wait until it's released on Bluray and watch it in HD on a big TV screen. Hear me now, thank me later.

Rating: ***1/2