out of Five
Running time: 95
Commendably faithful, stylishly directed reboot of the 2000AD character with impressive special effects, striking production design work, a suitably gritty, stripped down script and a trio of terrific performances from Urban, Thirlby and Headey.
What's it all about?
Directed by Pete Travis and written by Alex Garland, Dredd is the second attempt to bring the popular 2000AD comics character to the big screen, after Danny Cannon's disastrous 1995 Sylvester Stallone-starring effort. Set in a violent future where the police have the authority to be judge, jury and executioner, the film stars Karl Urban as Judge Dredd, a growling, near-monosyllabic law enforcement officer who's tasked with assessing psychic rookie Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), to see if she has what it takes to become a Judge.
However, on what amounts to Anderson's training day, the pair find themselves trapped in a 200 storey tower block filled with psychotic dealers of a brain-altering drug called Slo-Mo, all of whom are under the control of vicious gang leader Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). With the exits sealed off and Ma-Ma's minions ordered to kill them, Dredd and Anderson realise they're going to have to work together if they're going to make it out alive.
Keeping his helmet on throughout (a sign of the film's commitment to the character that was notably absent from the Stallone version), Urban delivers a terrific performance as Dredd, somehow recreating his extraordinary downturned mouth and growling his dialogue like Dirty Harry doing a Batman impression. Urban's achievement is all the more impressive since we never see the character's eyes: it's a lot to ask of a man's chin, but Urban pulls it off.
Thirlby is equally good as Anderson (another performance that is extremely faithful to the comics) and Headey makes an excellent villain, choosing to underplay the role to chilling effect, rather than resort to grandstanding or scenery-chewing.
Garland's stripped down script is superb, eschewing any tedious backstory in favour of getting Dredd and Anderson into the tower block action as swiftly as possible. The only unfortunate drawback is that the plot is almost exactly identical to The Raid, which Dredd can't quite match in terms of all-out action, though the action sequences here are exciting in their own right.
The production design is exceptional and the 3D effects are used inventively throughout, with blood literally spilling out of the screen on numerous occasions and a key set-piece using 3D-enhanced depth to great effect. The only problem is that the film literally overdoses on slo-mo; having established a trippy slow-motion effect for when the Slo-Mo drug is used, it then overuses the effect on non-drug-enhanced sequences too, so it eventually wears thin.
Stylish, exciting and impeccably designed, this is an extremely enjoyable action thriller that's commendably faithful to the source material. Essentially, this is the film Judge Dredd fans have been waiting for. Highly recommended.