Sorry for being a bit gone these past few weeks. I may have been roadtripping around Texas without a computer for a while. But what do you know, I arrived back in the country just in time for the latest stab at adapting Judge Dredd to the big screen, this time around just called Dredd. And let me tell you, this is what I’ve been wanting from an action film lately. No-nonsense and to the point, with some actual respect for the source material.
First thing that struck me: this is the kind of succinct worldbuilding that’ll make genre fans a little bit giddy. We get a short bit of narration, but then they basically let the grungy setting of Mega-City One, a smattering of skillfully placed dialogue from tertiary characters (or the telling silence of the main characters on their own personal stories) and the industrial soundtrack do the talking instead of a clunky script. Which is what you really need in a Judge Dredd film; after all, who wants to delve into background and motivations when we could see Justice being meted out? Don’t let that put off people unfamiliar with the series though, the plot is simple enough that you won’t be totally and completely lost without reading the series from the beginning.
Other nice surprises? It turns out Karl Urban can actually act with his chin, enough that he makes the occasional misstep with the gruff voice and some lines that would be irredeemably cheesy in most other movies believable. Olivia Thirlby also turns in a compelling performance as Anderson, girl can go from compassionate to menacing in a snap. Good thing too; after all, she’s basically the moving force behind the story given that it covers her first day on the job as a rookie Judge. Taking the focus off Dredd a little bit gives him the space to be the dispassioned badass we know and love instead of having to Hollywoodize him as a lead, while Anderson carries the bulk of the character growth, a challenge that Thirlby knocks out of the park. And as for our Big Bad, Lena Headey wasn’t too far off first season Cersei Lannister, but she has more of a dead eyed resigned intensity in this role, which may be a bit of an oxymoron but is the closest I’m going to get to describing whats going on here.
Now, normally I’d say 3D is a bit of a waste of time, but they actually managed to work it pretty well here. It’s mainly kept pretty subtle, until we get to the Slo-Mo scenes and holy hell does it set off some beautiful, almost illustrated shots. Some incredibly gory shots too that benefit from 3D… let’s just say this film doesn’t shy away from the source material.
Of course it’s going to be compared to that other highrise siege film The Raid, but with the two of them being on fairly different scales, I think there’s a place for both this year. Dredd’s art direction brings something intriguing to the table, and there’s going to be some interesting ground to cover with the authoritarian themes in future films (hopefully).
But one of the best parts of the plot, as a Dredd adaptation and as an action movie? No lame romantic subplot like in the Stallone film. Every character and every scene here earns its keep, and with all the mediocre action films from this summer that seemed to rely on romance as a plot device, it’s incredibly nice to see. Also, take notes script writers, this is how you write a strong female protagonist.
Verdict? Yes, go see it. Go see it now. And while you’re at it, keep a look out for continuity nods.