Director: Pete Travis
Writers: John Wagner (characters), Carlos Ezquerra (characters)
Stars: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey
Some of my favourite films are lean, pared down affairs. Karl Urban’s Dredd falls into this category. Relatively low budget, no flashy CGI, and a simple plot that sees our grim anti-hero trapped inside a tower block with a bunch of blood thirsty gang members. The sparse story revolves around Lena Heady’s Mama, the gangster in charge of distributing new narcotic ’slo-mo’. When her goons commit a grisly murder in the tower block where she operates, Dredd is drawn in to investigate, alongside a rookie he’s assessing, Anderson. Mama locks down the block, puts a bounty on their heads, and we’re off…
What follows is a spectacularly bloody fight for survival, and of course to reach the top of the tower and dispense justice to Mama. And bloody is just the word. Years before the success of Deadpool made hard R comic book movies fashionable, Dredd pulled no punches…or bullets, going through faces. And bellies. And exploding inside people’s skulls.
Dread even has a good excuse for it’s slow motion violence, thanks to the effect of Mama’s latest drug, which causes time to stretch for the user. Because of this, the assorted flying viscera is rendered strangely beautiful. The movie was shot in 3D (as it seems everything was for a while there) but there are no gimmicks and you miss nothing by not watching it this way, unless you really enjoy the effect. Ironically, I find 3D only detracts from my immersion.
I said there are no flashy CGI effects, and that is true. What computer wizardry there is, is used to create Mega City One. Aside from that the effects are subtle, used with discretion. The performances are uniformly strong. Lena Heady plays the villain with feral relish. Whereas Cersei’s evil is hidden behind an angelic smile and (usually) calm demeanour, Mama has no need to wear such a mask. Olivia Thirlby’s psychic Anderson is unsure of herself but has a core of grit underneath. What draws it all together is Urban’s Judge Dredd, a million miles away from Stallone’s offering (thought we weren’t going to mention that, didn’t you?) Urban keeps Dread’s helmet on as in the comics, using body language, inflection and er, his chin, to convey the character throughout. Urban reportedly insisted on this, and it’s a testament to his good instincts as an actor. His Dredd is gruff without being Batman with a gun.
Rather than just a scowl in riot gear, Dredd comes across as driven, cynical, and utterly committed to the (let’s face it, fascist) system he upholds. Most fascinating is an ambiguous moment where he seems to show genuine fear, if not terror, when he realises he might actually be about to die. Later in the comics Dredd begins to doubt the system, and it would be interesting to see Urban get to play that out. An appearance by Judge Death and a foray into the Cursed Earth wouldn’t go amiss either. The success of the movie on Blu-ray triggered some hope for a sequel, but what we’re getting might prove even better. At San Diego Comic-Con this year Rebellion announced they had a script for a pilot and two seasons of stories.
Karl Urban isn’t officially onboard yet, but has been vocal from the beginning, even lobbying for Amazon or Netflix to pick up the franchise. Basically, if he’s free, and the script is right, he’ll do it. Here’s hoping Urban’s Dredd returns to our screens sometime in the not- to distant future.