8 September 2012

Review: Dredd

(Dir: Pete Travis, 2012) 

Dredd feels like the sort of film I’ve been waiting all summer to watch. There’s been a lot of good films out but nothing that delivers in the way that Dredd does. At least nothing quite this fun or adult. Dredd may be another entry in the long line of comic book movies we've been offered lately, but it drinks from a very different well to the recent spate of Marvel or DC adaptations.

In my recent Total Recall review (see here) I debated the merits or otherwise of remaking films. To a degree what I was saying there is relevant here. The character of Judge Dredd comes from the rich source material of over 30 years of 2000 AD comics, and first made his way onto the screen in 1995 in the wildly derided Sylvester Stallone starring Judge Dredd. It may have been a very long time since I last saw it but I’m not left with the best of memories. And so this is the perfect scenario in which someone should have another go at this story/character with the genuine opportunity to improve things. 

Fortunately Dredd has nothing to do with the last film and instead benefits from a nice economical story, with no bullshit or extraneous padding. There have been three homicides in one of Mega City One’s 200 storey tower blocks and Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) heads to the scene with Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), the rookie Judge he is assessing. But this block is run by crime lord Ma-Ma (Lena Heady) who doesn’t want the Judges to leave alive, so shutters up the entire building and sets the many criminal residents on them. Thus it’s a simple fight to survive.

This is a film that doesn’t need anymore than this to work. To some the plot may sound very reminiscent of this years The Raid, and essentially it is pretty much the same, but the approach and style is very different. The Raid is more martial arts based and with a sense of gritty realism amidst the impressive choreography, but it does get a little tiresome. This on the other hand is firmly rooted in sci-fi and fantasy and is more concerned with firepower, and there’s a lot of that.

Urban is perfectly cast as Dredd. He sounds unequivocally tough whilst being physically imposing, and with the body amour factored in he looks like an immovable beast. There are some shots of him walking with intent down smokey corridors filmed from behind, and he just looks menacing. We’re given no back story on him whatsoever and know no more than he is something of a legend amongst the Judges and he enforces to the letter of the law. But best of all the helmet stays on for the whole film. This really heightens his mystique and keeps him every so slightly dehumanised, which means he has no flaws and is like a machine in his righteous drive to deliver judgement.

The rest of the cast work well. Thirlby never once wears a helmet so this balances things out by giving us some humanity to root for, whilst she also gets a bit of back story and the need to express some emotion. But it’s only enough to hook us in and not bore us. Heady makes for a good villain. Thanks to her time in the likes of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Game Of Thrones, she finds herself fitting into this sort of universe well and is always enjoyable to watch. Plus it's nice to see this sort of role given to a woman for a change.

The general aesthetics of Dredd successfully represent the gritty struggling dystopia of its universe, but more importantly it doesn’t pull any punches tonally. This is a film unafraid of brutality, with some graphic violence and bloodletting, which is something you want to see associated with this type of character as it only enhances his hardened nature. Entertainment, the distributors, should be applauded for embracing an 18 certificate here in the UK. The score is strong too, based around electronics, noise and deep bass, providing even more atmosphere and edge. At times the film does verge on being over-stylised but considering the genre it sits in it's not really an issue.

Dredd delivered on the promise of the character. It’s dark, it’s brutal and it’s got lots of good action, which combined with the perfect casting of Urban creates a wholly satisfying package. Thankfully it washes away memories of the limp nineties film and justifies this second attempt to make something based on this character, whilst not feeling remotely Hollywoodised. It’s a satisfying watch; I thoroughly enjoyed it and already look forward to watching again. Judgement has been passed.

Note: I watched the 2D version. Yet again here is a film that didn't seem like it would benefit from being watched in 3D, apart from the unnecessarily over-stylised scenes added solely for the 3D effect. Plus it's quite a dark film so the extra darkness added by the glasses likely won't help picture clarity. 

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