It’s a Sunday afternoon and what could be more natural than a craving for junk food and an hour or two of mindless cinema violence? (That’s not really a question). After much deliberation it came down to a choice between The Expendables 2 and Dredd 3D. Dredd won obviously.

I don’t consider myself a hardcore Judge Dredd fan – I was a casual reader as a teenager because my boyfriend subscribed to 2000AD. My most vivid memories are of playing the Block Wars board game with him: it always ended in a row because I always lost when he suddenly ‘remembered’ some obscure rule that worked to his advantage. Still, I knew enough to know that the Stallone version sucked big time and that if I’d acted it out in my living room in a homemade costume I’d have come closer to capturing the spirit of the comic. (I didn’t but I actually might do that later if there’s nothing on TV…)

I didn’t have high hopes – just that it would be better than The Expendables 2. And it was. It was really good. Very violent. Very exciting. And better than all that – it was cool.

The plot is simple (which it should be for an action film.)

Dredd’s world is Earth after multiple nuclear wars. Society is violent and anarchic and people have congregated in enormous mega-cities, in Dredd’s case Mega-City One. Within these cities most of the population live in giant tower blocks called, erm…Blocks. Blocks are often run by drug lords and criminal gangs. Keeping order is difficult and therefore law is quick and brutal and discharged by the Judges.

Dredd (Karl Urban) is despatched to investigate 3 homicides at Peach Trees, a Block run by violent and unstable prostitute turned drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) and her gang. Ma-Ma controls the production and distribution of a new drug called Slo-Mo that slows down perception to 1% of real time.

Dredd is assigned a rookie, Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), and instructed to evaluate her in the field to see if she’s got what it takes to be a Judge. Anderson is a genetic mutant with powerful psychic abilities (handy). Upon entering the Block they arrest one of Ma-Ma’s inner circle, Kay (Wood Harris), for the murders but before they can take him back to headquarters for interrogation Ma-Ma shuts down the Block and issues a death warrant for the Judges. With the entire Block now against them their only choice is to fight.

Karl Urban is excellent as Dredd, sticking to Judge Dredd lore and never removing his helmet, and therefore acting mostly with his chin (in a good way) while vocally channelling Clint in Dirty Harry. There’s no weakness or inner turmoil and there’s mercifully no hint of romance with Anderson. He’s grim, implacable, kicks ass (did a lot of his own stunts apparently) and is ultimately believable in the role. He’s laconic in the extreme but evinces enough dry humour not to descend into parody.

Thirlby is great as plucky rookie Anderson. She doesn’t overplay the character’s vulnerability and is convincing when she rises to the challenges in front of her.  She’s an effective counterpart to Dredd and, a relative rarity in current action cinema I think, a strong female character who can hold her own and not just cling to the back of the hero’s motorbike or provide the token love interest.

Lena Headey is impressive as the dangerously psychotic Ma-Ma – her soft-spoken delivery making her all the more chilling. It’s also great to see Wood Harris, who was so brilliant as Avon Barksdale in The Wire, as Ma-Ma’s right-hand man Kay.

This is a proper old-school action film – the kind that doesn’t seem to get made very much anymore. There’s no soul-searching, no complex character motivations, minimal backstory and no romance crowbarred in ‘so women will watch it’. It doesn’t flinch, cop out and give you A-Team-style violence to keep it’s 12A rating – it’s brutal and bloody and quite shocking in places. The scene where Ma-Ma unleashes multiple gun cannons on Dredd had the fangirl in me very nearly jumping up and down and clapping her hands in glee. It delivered what it promised and at only 1.5 hours long it didn’t drag.

There’s effective use of slow-motion camera work for the drug scenes and it isn’t overused (something Guy Ritchie should take on board) so it doesn’t become tedious or interrupt the narrative.  The mostly muted visuals and dirty light reinforce the bleak atmosphere and it’s one of the first films I’ve seen where the use of 3D really enhances the action.

It also has a pounding industrial rock score which gains it extra points.

This is an admirable realisation of the iconic 2000AD character. Sequel anyone?

Originally posted 11 September 2012


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