Let’s just get this out of the way now. Yes, there was a movie called Judge Dredd made in 1995 with Sylvester Stallone and Rob Schneider. Enough said there so let’s move on to 2012. Dredd is a great example of where a new vision of a story was needed and very much appreciated. Karl Urban is Judge Dredd here and while he’s not quite the box office action star Stallone was in ’95, he far surpasses Stallone in his portrayal of the iconic comic book hero in 2012s Dredd.
We must first acknowledge that not everyone is going to know who Judge Dredd is. I have to admit that I’ve only read one Judge Dredd comic in my life and I am an avid comic collector. Judge Dredd is set in a dystopian future where Earth has been ravaged and is an irradiated wasteland now known as the Cursed Earth. The last remnants of humanity live in mega-cities, a blending of the old world and new. Violence reigns and is only barely held at bay by the judges, enforcers who protect the citizens as sole judge, jury and executioners. Judge Dredd is one of the best and resides in Mega-City One, played here by Karl Urban (Dr. McCoy in Star Trek). Dredd is tasked with reviewing a potential new judge named Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirby, The Darkest Hour). She’s a mutant with psychic abilities who doesn’t appear to have what it takes to be a judge. From their first call together, they are sent to investigate a triple murder at the Peach Trees, a 200-story complex that is nothing more than a drug and crime infested slum. It is run by Madeline Madrigal (Lena Headey, Game of Thrones), a homicidal and psychotic former prostitute who goes by the name Ma-Ma. We soon discover Ma-Ma is the force behind a new and deadly drug called Slo-Mo, which slows down the user’s perception of time to 1%.
After a drug bust reveals a far more important thug named Kay (Wood Harris, Remember The Titans), a man who holds the key to Ma-Ma’s downfall, the tables are turned on Dredd and Anderson. The building is locked down and they immediately become the hunted. Ma-Ma announces she wants them dead at all costs and anyone caught interfering will be killed. What follows is non-stop action as Dredd and Anderson move up the tower to get to Ma-Ma, encountering group after group of killers who are easily outmatched by the legendary Dredd. Anderson’s psychic abilities prove helpful on more than one occasion and she proves she fight as well. Eventually, they get a message out for backup but when it arrives, we learn that even judges have a price. Now, Dredd not only has to fight off Ma-Ma and her men but his fellow judges as well. Ammunition is running low and there is nowhere left to run.
Despite the fact that writer Alex Garland (Sunshine, 28 Weeks Later) began writing the draft in 2006, there is legitimate argument that it was influenced, at least partially, by The Raid: Redemption (2011). The overall idea is the same with a loyal police officer entering a building run by a drug lord and having to fight level after level of thugs in order to survive. The structure is that of a video game, which isn’t always the recipe for success (Doom anyone?) but works quite well here. The violence is turned up to 11 and we get some truly fun scenes. When Ma-Ma breaks out the Vulcan cannons, massive destruction begins and ends with a high body count. Yet Dredd survives and the confidence Ma-Ma had in the beginning is diminishing as the body count of her own men continues to rise.
Visually, the movie is mix of the bleakness of the world they now live in and the beautiful images and effects of Slo-Mo. While I didn’t see this in 3D, I can imagine that some of the scenes were quite stunning on the big screen. They truly contrast each other and one can almost imagine the attraction Slo-Mo gives to people trapped in a world of violence and hopelessness. The action never fails to impress or let up, allowing the 95-minute running time to move along quickly. Urban captures the essence of Judge Dredd, a man of duty in a violent world with just a hint of humanity from time to time. Headey is also fun as Ma-Ma, visually frightening with her scarred face yet clearly in over her head once Dredd becomes unstoppable.
Unfortunately, Dredd has been a financial failure. It has yet to surpass its budget, which puts a sequel in doubt at this point. Hopefully, enough money is made from Blu-ray and DVD sales to allow a sequel to be considered. However, I would only be willing to see it if Urban is back as Dredd and a lower budget doesn’t turn it into a poor CGI direct-to-video mess. A better marketing campaign will also be needed. Much of this films poor box office is due to the lack of Dredd being a household name. Everyone knows who Batman or Spider-man is but Dredd’s audience is smaller. This was apparently a very faithful adaptation and received a good critical response, just not enough due to the lack of name recognition. I recommend Dredd for a fun and sometimes over-the-top action flick worthy of a summer matinee. I think you’ll be surprised and wanting a sequel, just as I am.