We Are The Law!
Dredd is to Judge Dredd what Punisher: War Zone is to Punisher - vastly superior films than their predecessors, in keeping to the source comic book material, and wiping the stench that permeated from the previous movie versions. OK, granted Punisher wasn't that bad with Thomas Jane in the leading role, but when placed side by side, War Zone triumphed because Jane's Punisher lacked an edge that the character possessed, and this was fixed in what would neither be a reboot or a remake, but just is. And Dredd takes on the same concept, neither a reboot or a remake, and becomes THE Judge Dredd film to date, with more respect paid to the comic strip version that I grew up with, featured in the Sunday papers at one point in time, in just the way I remembered, and without breaking the cardinal rule of removing his helmet, which Stallone did as an ego trip in his Judge Dredd movie, drawing much irk from fans everywhere that the star is bigger than the persona he's playing.
And fans can take heart that Alex Garland's screenplay, together with Pete Travis' direction, makes this a worthy Dredd film. There's no need to dwell in unnecessary back stories, or go beyond the fleeting introduction to the state of the World in this universe, the rule of the Judges, and the concepts in Mega-City One. It dives straight into the thick of the action, fast forwarding to the main plot of having Dredd (Karl Urban) assigned to assess rookie Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who is on the fail end of borderline to become a Judge, by throwing her into the deep end of the pool and seeing if she would sink or swim, with a chance given because she's a powerful psychic who can hone her abilities, which naturally come advantageous in a fire fight. Their enemy is Ma Ma (Lena Headey), a prostitute turned drug dealer, buckled down in the Peach Trees Block of 200 floors filled with thugs at every level who do her bidding, whose narcotic Slo-Mo allows a high that's pretty much an opportunity of the filmmakers to experiment with psychedelic slow motion effects that are primed to exploit the 3D version. Drugs, and three skinned, drug pumped bodies thrown over a parapet, goes onto Dredd and Anderson's radar, and with their entrapment in the building during their investigations mean a fight for their way out.
Wait a minute! For those who have watched the trailer, admit it, we all thought this was going to be a knock off of The Raid: Redemption's plot. On the surface, yes it does seem so, with highly trained police officers squaring off with thugs at every floor in order to survive and escape a building ruled by a ruthless drug lord, complete with personal quarters and a factory that churns out the narcotic. And what's with those loudspeakers for threat making, and the level of violence in both films? Yes they're fairly similar, and it's fair that one can expect a copy, but by the time Dredd rolls about in his Lawmaster cycle, and fire countless of rounds from his Lawgiver handgun, all notions of a knock off goes flying out the window, because this essentially developed into a Dredd movie, with deadpan humour that you know may be funny, but won't laugh because it's delivered in such grim fashion, and the level of visceral violence in the film makes it one that's rooted in science fiction fantasy, instead of martial arts credibility.
And credit to that is Karl Urban's performance, with the actor seeing absolutely no need to lift that helmet like what Stallone did, and delivered a worthy Dredd performance that's a million times better than what Stallone can muster in a lifetime. He's a true badass who suffer no fools, cuts a bad mofo figure, and inhibits the spirit of the character through his ultra-serious performance, making you quake if you ever go head up with this judge, jury, and executioner. Stallone had to scream "I AM THE LAW" just to make himself heard, but Urban just has to whisper it in a calm and steady tone, and that's enough for one to piss in the pants, as he mows down anyone standing in his way with extreme prejudice, and chalks up the body count.
Surprisingly Olivia Thirlby became an essential part of the narrative, as it provided a buddy cop movie perspective in Dredd, but without needless comedy. Put into the film to contrast not only in gender terms but the level of experience besides Dredd, she holds her own against Urban, and formed what would be the quintessential partnership that is truly memorable, and worked very well in the film. Lena Headey didn't have much to do here except snarl behind her made up, heavily scarred face, but had enough venom in her performance to make her Ma Ma convincing as the woman who managed to climb her way to the top of the thug food chain.
While the Judges' uniform had its details trimmed down for functional purposes, take heart that the details put into the Lawgiver handgun, is something that will delight fans, together with CG and art direction that combined well to bring out the degree of glean, and rot on both the macro Mega-City One level, and indoors of the Peach Trees block. The soundtrack by Paul Leonard-Morgan also provided an additional punctuation for the set action sequences, as its hard industrial sounds fit right in to the attitude of Dredd, and provided a dark soul for the visuals on screen. It's been quite a while that I've been impressed by a film's score, and Leonard-Morgan's fit right into this movie's like hand in glove.
Hopefully this British-South African production would be a sufficient hit at the box office to green light a sequel, because the good work had been set up and it's a pretty shame if it stops here, just like how Punisher: War Zone grounded to a halt with the lack of a box office response. These films are options for more adult fare in the action genre complete with in your face violence and gore extremities, yet sticking true to and not insulting their roots by needlessly dumbing them down for a wider audience. For the action junkie in you that is not squeamish when heads get blown off, this is highly recommended!