Directed By: Pete Travis
Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey
Tag line: "Judgment is coming"
Trivia: Duncan Jones was offered the director's chair, but turned it down
Having never read the comic books, all I ever knew of Judge Dredd came courtesy of Sylvester Stallone’s 1995 movie, which many Dredd fans have criticized for the liberties it took (the chief complaint being that Stallone, who plays the lead, removed his helmet several times throughout the film, something Judge Dredd doesn’t do in the comics). From what I hear, director Pete Travis’s 2012 movie, Dredd, finally sets the record straight, providing us with a cinematic version of the character that’s worthy of the source material. Whether that’s true or not, I can’t say, but the one thing I do know is that Dredd is an amazing action film.
It’s the not-too-distant future, and America has descended into chaos. While most of the country lies in waste, a humongous metropolis known as Mega-City One stretches along the Eastern seaboard (from what was once Boston to the remnants of Washington, D.C.), and is home to 800 million people. To deal with the thousands of crimes that occur on a daily basis in this overcrowded city, the authorities have assembled the “Judges”, a special law enforcement unit that’s been given absolute power (meaning they can apprehend, pass judgment, and, if the crime is severe enough, act as executioner as well). Of all the Judges, Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is the most feared, a no-nonsense lawman who always gets his criminal. It’s because of this that he’s asked to assess new rookie Anderson (Olivia Thirby), who, despite failing the aptitude test, possesses psychic abilities that could prove useful.
For her first assignment, Anderson accompanies Dredd to the Peach-Tree, one of the city’s largest apartment buildings, to investigate a triple homicide that involved a new super-drug known as “Slo Mo”, which dulls the addict’s senses and perceptions, making everything around them appear to be moving in slow motion. Shortly after arriving on the scene, Dredd and Anderson apprehend Kay (Wood Harris), a henchman of the powerful drug lord known as “Ma-Ma” (Lena Headey), who controls the entire Peach Tree complex. Dredd intends to take Kay in for questioning, but before they can leave, Ma-Ma orders everything locked down, blocking all the exits with blast doors and trapping the two Judges inside. What’s more, Ma-Ma, who resides on the top floor, makes a general announcement to the whole building that the Judges are to be killed, promising a reward to whoever gets the job done. On the run for their lives, and with hundreds of criminals hunting for them, Dredd and Anderson must find a way out and, if possible, end Ma-Ma’s reign of terror.
As the title character, Urban is positively intense, portraying Judge Dredd as an absolute hard-ass. Preferring to work alone, he’s none too pleased to be teamed up with a raw recruit (as the two of them set out, Dredd rattles off a list of offenses, from not following his orders to losing her weapon, that would amount to Anderson immediately failing the assessment. Not skipping a beat, he then asks, “You ready, rookie?” When Anderson says she is, Dredd replies, quite curtly, “The assessment starts now”). On the streets, Dredd is even more extreme, and doesn’t hesitate to pass judgment or carry out a sentence (when one perpetrator takes a hostage, Dredd offers him life in prison without parole, but only if he lets the hostage go). Unlike Stallone, Urban never takes his helmet off, but then, he doesn’t have to; we don’t need to see Dredd’s eyes to know how serious he is. We hear it in his voice, and we see it in the way he carries out his duties.
Along with Urban’s strong performance, Dredd boasts plenty of crazy action, the craziest of which involves a high-powered assault cannon, personally fired by Ma-Ma, that tears an entire block of the Peach Tree apart, killing dozens of residents. As awesome as this sequence is, it’s but one of many ultra-violent, powerful confrontations. I have no idea if any sequels to Dredd are in the works, but if there’s one modern action hero who deserves his own series, Judge Dredd is it.