Whereas the Stallone version of the film was pretty damn awful (despite its much bigger budget), the reboot of the Judge Dredd franchise comes in the form of a stripped-down, gritty day-in-the-life tale of Mega-City One’s leading law enforcer; and, at the very least, seems very necessary.
I can’t confess to ever reading the comics, but Pete Travis’ take on the anti-hero character (played by Karl Urban) is gripping and exciting, set in a post-apocalyptic world where there is major confrontation between “good” and “evil” forces. Despite showing what seems like the entire movie in the trailer, Dredd sucks us in to a dark, mysterious and threatening environment, where people are desperate; often committing violent acts of rebellion under their oaths as gang members; and the judges seem to be the only hope the citizens have.
The leading gang, ‘The Ma-Ma Crew’, runs a two-hundred-story vertical slum in the centre of the city, and has a habit of skinning its victims to send out a message that they are not to be fucked with. Its members are despicable and deliberately unsympathetic (most of all, the head of the gang – played by The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ Lena Headey), which creates an obvious parallel between them and Dredd/THE LAW.
Interesting and likeable is Dredd’s rookie sidekick named Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who is under review in the field, and possesses powerful psychic abilities due to a genetic mutation. During her and Dredd’s ascent to the top of the building and quest to install order, Travis creates an atmosphere that is extremely edgy and claustrophobic.
Regarding the politics, Dredd could have easily been a story of zero tolerance policing/preachy authoritarianism, but (in similar vein to Robocop) the film satires much of Dredd’s world, making it seem somewhat liberal. In fact, considering that the action takes place under the confinement of one building, the politics aren’t that much of an issue here; quite simply, this is a story about the law tackling the threat of the criminals (who, incidentally, come in the form of corrupt cops, as well as the more obvious gang members).
The dirty, industrial score fits the setting perfectly, and Karl Urban’s character snarl and raspy voice are very well done (Dredd fans will be pleased to know the character does not remove his helmet in this one). The ending, though, comes a little too soon, despite the terrific build-up, and the lack of budget seems to permit the director exploring the wider civilisation of Mega-City (something that will probably happen in a sequel).
The slow-motion effects are pretty cool in emphasizing the effects of drug usage, and doesn’t seem visually out of place, despite contrasting the otherwise raw, dirty look of the film (credit Anthony Dod Mantle’s for this). Credit, also, director Pete Travis for pulling no punches on the violence, contributing to the overall dark nature of Dredd, displacing memories of that horrible Stallone film that we all want to forget.