Dredd is not only an example of how to do a reboot right, it’s also boasting excellent 3D and can count itself among the best action movies of the year. This is exactly the kind of movie that The Expendables 2 was trying to pay tribute to, but while that film was overly referential and relied on star power and ‘wink wink, nudge nudge’ in-jokes, Dredd is much more like a modern-day version of The Terminator or RoboCop. It’s a genuinely awesome action movie, recalling an era of hardcore, no-nonsense thrills from before when Jason Statham, superheroes and shaky cam had hijacked the genre.
Set in a post-apocalyptic future, Dredd (Karl Urban; Star Trek) is a Judge in Mega-City One, a massive metropolis where crime is rampant and a new drug called Slo-Mo is on the rise. In dispensing justice Dredd acts without prejudice to fulfil his duties as judge, jury and executioner. Each day in this hive of scum and villainy is another 24 hours in Hell, and on this particular day Dredd gets saddled with a rookie, Anderson (Olivia Thirlby; Juno), who he must assess as to whether or not she has what it takes to be a Judge.
It doesn’t take long for the two to land themselves in a situation where they’re locked in a towering apartment block however, ruthlessly controlled by a decadent drug lord known as Ma-Ma (Lena Headey; Game of Thrones) with a small army of gang members at her disposal. Similar to The Raid, Dredd and Anderson can’t escape so decide that the pragmatic thing to do is to fight their way up the 200 or so stories all the way to Ma-Ma, administering justice to any who get in their way.
It’s a simple but fertile premise for an action movie, and Dredd doesn’t waste a second. The action hits hard, fast and brutal – this is a bloody, violent movie. Best of all, it’s actually coherent. Another plus is that director Pete Travis (Vantage Point) was evidently forced to rely on a lot of practical effects since the film had a relatively modest budget, and so it never turns into a disappointing CGI-fest as plenty of blockbusters tend to. As a result the action bears weight and grit, and the onscreen world feels real and believable. On more than one occasion I was reminded of the visual aesthetic of District 9 – another film that made the most of its limited budget. Only once or twice did I wish that the filmmakers had a bit more to work with, since there wasn’t much variety to the various levels of the apartment block.
Still, for a world as grungy as Dredd’s this is a startlingly beautiful movie at times. This is mostly thanks to the drug Slo-Mo, which tricks the brain into thinking that time is passing at 1% of its normal speed. The movie uses this as an intelligent excuse to weave some pretty astonishing slow-motion sequences into the action, and it’s by far the best and most refreshing use of the technique since The Matrix. The action slows to an absolute crawl and colours become vibrant and hyper-saturated to represent the effect of the drug, making even blood streaking through air seem somehow elegant and graceful.
The acting too, is terrific. Urban’s take on the titular character is much more serious than Sly’s in the original 1995 piece of cheese. Here, Dredd speaks with a harsh voice – part Clint Eastwood, part Batman – so when he utters famous lines like, “I am the law,” you believe it (as opposed to Stallone’s classic take). Also unlike Stallone’s portrayal is the fact that Urban never takes the helmet off. The Dredd in this film is a prime cut piece of badass that stands toe-to-toe with iconic characters like Arnie’s Terminator or even Master Chief from the popular Halo series. He doesn’t have much of a character arc, but then he doesn’t really need one either.
In any case, Anderson picks up the slack where a character arc is concerned and ends up being a strong female lead who, for once, isn’t a love interest! I don’t know about you but I’m sick and tired of having love interests who are shoehorned into action movies so I was relieved when Dredd had the audacity to be somewhat original. As it turns out (and this isn’t a spoiler), Anderson is a bit of a badass herself – she’s a powerful psychic. This might sound like a dubious element but the movie handles this aspect of her character surprisingly well. Overall, it’s great to see how Anderson develops from her starting position as a nervous rookie.
Last but not least is Lena Headey, who proves her versatility by playing a villain quite distinct from her role as Game of Thrones’ Cersei Lannister (but still just as loathsome). Having such a great baddie is really just icing on what’s already a delicious cake. Indeed, Dredd is almost everything I could have hoped for and does exactly what this kind of movie should do: entertain. And boy, was I entertained!
Dredd is a fantastic action movie that harks back to the golden age of the genre, featuring an iconic character, brutal action, impressive visuals and a hint of a commentary on authority and justice.